The homey quarters were dark and still. The man in bed snored lightly. The woman lying beside him was silent but awake, staring up in the darkness. She couldn't sleep; the painkiller had done nothing. Her head throbbed a rhythm of agony. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she tried to stifle a moan.
The man heard, and woke instantly. "Sif?" He touched her bare shoulder. "No better?"
"No," she whispered. "If anything, worse. Donner, but I feel like pounding my head against the wall just to shut it out...." A single sob shook her.
Heimdal knew it was serious. He sat up and pulled her into his arms, rocking her gently.
"Thank you, thank you...." She leaned into his shoulder, hiding her face.
The touch helped; the pain seemed to recede a little with each wave. After a few centons it was bearable, and Sif was able to relax. It finally reduced to a heavy pounding in her head, as if she'd had just a little too much ambrosa.
"This was worse than the last one?"
She nodded. "I never had headaches like this before ... before the aliens. And the nightmares...." Her voice shook a little. "Was it that bad, Heimdal? Am I becoming insane because of something they did to me?"
His grip tightened protectively. "Beej said there was nothing wrong with us physically. I haven't had any problems. The nightmares and the headaches must be psychological – they'll go away. Or do you want ... help?"
They lay back on the bunk. Sif rested her head on her husband's chest. "As long as I have you, I will be all right."
They held each other, waiting for sleep to return. After a few moments, Sif took one of her blonde braids and began toying with it, brushing Heimdal's chin and throat, tickling his lips, twining it with his own red temple braids. When she followed the brushing with a light kiss, he laughed deep in his throat.
"I don't think you're interested in sleep just now."
He rolled on his side, pinning her against the bed, and kissed her deeply. It was quite some time and exertion later before either of the sweaty, sheet-tangled warriors were interested in talking seriously again.
"Something is very wrong here," Heimdal mused. "As I understand it, women use a headache as an excuse to avoid love. Yet recently, you get headaches as a precursor to taking advantage of me."
"Taking advantage?" She laughed lightly. "But you make it so easy! And you look so good when you're disreputable...." She ran her fingers through the loose red hair, a lecherous smile on her face.
"At least you have made an honest man of me...."
"Do we have a patrol in the morning?" she interrupted. "Or any other pressing duties?"
"Not that I remember."
"Good. I think this could be a long night."
Tigh sent a gentle sigh of frustration into the dimness. He was on sleep period, but he wasn't getting much rest. Unfortunately, the lack of rest wasn't due to his companion. The woman next to him laughed ruefully as she moved.
Strike that. She's not next to me, she's on top of me.
"Your heart's not in it tonight, Tigh." Her stroking was definitely obscene.
"I doubt it's my heart you're interested in just now," he remarked.
"Of course I'm interested. Exercise and cardio-vascular activity, and all that, very healthy, good for a man and a woman. But you've got something besides me on your mind. Care to talk about it?" She switched position to cuddle close to his side, her head on his shoulder, one long ebony leg still thrown over his. Long coils of tightly curled black hair tickled his chest.
He sighed again. "Adama went over the flight roster today, looking for a new flight commander. I think he wanted to avoid it as long as possible, but the squadrons need a leader...."
Maruwa murmured something sympathetic.
Tigh continued introspectively. "Starbuck would have been the most logical next choice, but he's gone, too.... Maybe Boomer...."
"There are other captains in the squadrons. Doesn't one of them have the experience and seniority for the post...? I mean, not to take anything away from the warrior, but Boomer is just a lieutenant. So was Starbuck."
"There's more than rank to consider – there's seniority aboard this ship, demonstrated leadership potential, ability to function well with our current personnel under the present situation.... I'm sorry, I'm spouting an old manual at you."
"So you think it will be Boomer?"
He thought for a moment. "Probably not," he finally admitted. "Captain Nestor of Red Squadron meets all the requirements. Good record, high survival rate, due for promotion. I suppose he'd be chosen over Starbuck, too – he could be ... a little reckless, and they don't come any steadier than Nestor."
Maruwa was silent for several centons after his voice trailed off.
"That's not all that's on your mind, Tigh. I've never know you to ... to be so unable to set aside work difficulties. You and Adama have been friends for yahrens. I know you were close to the children, too, since you and Kleopatra didn't have any of your own."
He wondered that she brought up his ex-wife, considering the situation.
"You're hurting for your friend's pain. You miss Apollo and Starbuck yourself. They were more than warriors to you. They were almost sons. And you're feeling for Boomer and Sheba and Cassie and Athena and your other 'children' as well."
He held her tighter. "Are you psychic?" Something was breaking through in his voice.
She giggled a little. "Only with people I know well."
"Maybe I've been trying not to think about it that way." He couldn't hold back the heavy sigh. "Adama seemed so tired today. I offered to take his shift, but he said he'd rather be on the bridge, he wasn't leaving his post. Athena was listless, too. Today was the first she's been back on duty since they were declared missing – losing her brother and the man she loves.... She was pale, dark-eyed, like she hadn't slept.... I wish there was something I could do for them."
"I'm sure they know that, and appreciate it."
"I'm sure you're right, but still...."
"I thought I could take your mind off it for an evening. I should have known better."
"From the night I met you, you've always been there when I needed you, Maruwa," he said fervently. "I need you. Just be here now, like you were before." He wondered fiercely if it were possible to hold a woman any closer.
Apollo's eyes snapped open. He stared around in some confusion, wondering for a moment where he was. Then the memories came back – the Pegasus, not the Galactica; that's why he was sleeping in general barracks, not his own quarters, the flight commander's quarters. He was just a pilot, not the....
Flight commander. That's what woke him. That's what he'd been dreaming. But why should he dream...? It hadn't been a nightmare; there was no reason for his sudden waking and alertness. The dream refused to come to clarity, just hung in his mind as an impression of something he'd been doing or should have been doing.
Apollo glanced around in the silent dimness. No one was stirring, so he couldn't have been responding to someone else's movements. He leaned over the edge of his upper bunk. No, it hadn't been Starbuck, either; his friend wasn't in bed – at least, not here, he amended. Starbuck made "friends" faster than anybody he knew,.
His head unexpectedly throbbed, and he lay back with a grimace. Maybe an incipient headache had disturbed him. He lay still for a few moments, but the pain didn't go away as it always had before. Of course, before he'd always had the security of the celestial observation dome to escape to, and his own small projects to concentrate on. Laying as immobile as possible, he soon realized this headache wasn't going to follow the pattern of the others.
Maybe it was still related to his injuries from the combat and rescue three days before, his first day aboard the Pegasus. He decided on a quick trip to life center.
Med tech Galswintha was on duty. Apollo caught himself blinking in surprise at seeing her dark features instead of Cassiopeia's fair coloring. It amazed him anew at how similar two ships could be, and yet so disorienting with different crews.
When he told her what was bothering him, she frowned. "Another headache," she mused as she pressed the injector against his shoulder.
"Another?" he repeated.
"Lieutenant Sif was here earlier tonight, a sudden headache, throbbing behind the eyes like a migraine, sounded the same as yours. You're certain you have no history of chronic headaches? You didn't do anything yesterday that could have caused a delayed stress reaction?"
"I've had a few headaches the last sectons, but I've never had one like this, and I don't recall doing anything that could have brought it on. Shouldn't that stuff be working already? The headache seems to be getting worse," he told her.
"I'll give you a quick check-up. If it's something related to or caused by your landing the other day, that we missed then...."
Apollo endured Galswintha's examination, his head hurting more with every passing centon. By the time she was finished, he was gritting his teeth to keep from moaning.
She watched with a frown. "I'll call one of the doctors. Beej is on call for this shift...."
"For a frakkin' headache? And does it have to be Beej? I swear the man hates me," he groaned.
"Beej doesn't hate anybody.... Captain? Apollo?"
Apollo heard her concerned call, but was too breathless to respond. Something in his brain gave one last effort, and for a moment the captain wanted to curl into a fetal position and die. Then the pain ebbed off into a memory faster than it had come on, leaving only a dull sensation with each heartbeat.
He found a smile for Galswintha. "Your potion finally seems to be working."
Her forehead puckered in surprise at the abruptness of the man's recovery. "Are you certain, Captain?"
"I should know when I'm no longer in pain, shouldn't I?"
"May I go now?" he asked with intentionally childish tones.
"If you feel all right. But I'll pass this along to the doctors – don't be surprised if they contact you for another thorough check-up tomorrow."
Apollo left life center as fast as he could, convinced that if he delayed even a micron, the med tech would call him back and not permit him to leave. He still didn't feel sleepy, however, so he wandered the mostly-empty corridors, figuring it was a good time to acquaint himself with the ship. Maybe, he thought wryly, he would even discover where Starbuck was spending all his time recently. The last dregs of his headache lingered on; concentrating on the small bit of pain, his strolling was aimless until he found himself in front of the door to the flight commander's quarters.
"Electra," he mused, as suddenly aware as if someone had poked him and pointed it out.
Major Electra. She's the fight commander here, not me. Why does that keep nibbling at my mind? Is my pride taking that much of a beating?
A throb reminded him of the pain behind his eyes. He remembered the way she had eased a headache for him before, with a relaxing neck and shoulder massage that had eased a lot of mental tension as well.
Startled, Apollo realized it was Electra's voice, and that his hand had brushed her annunciator without conscious command. The door slid open. Embarrassed and hesitant, he walked in. She was seated at her desk with a stack of compsheets in front of her. She was out of uniform in some loose-sleeved, colorful shift, but at least he hadn't wakened her from sleep period.
"Uh, sorry about that...."
"Sorry about what?" Her welcoming smile became puzzled.
"I think I hit your door by accident. I wasn't intending to stop by or disturb you...."
"Oh. Who were you planning to disturb?"
"Uh ... I had a headache, so I visited life center, and I've been wandering about – I should be getting some sleep, actually. I'm still adjusting to your day/night schedule; it's a few centars off the Galactica's.... Uh, you look kind of busy...." He gestured at the pile of paper.
She made a face. "Fortunately, I just finished my secton's paperwork. Whoever said bureautucians live in paper infrastructures was right. Just wish I knew why they insist on warriors living there too!"
Apollo had to laugh. "I remember. There were enough sleepless nights aboard the Galactica."
Electra began feeding the sheets into her computer console and quickly changed the subject. "Have a seat, Apollo. There's no reason to stand there like you're in a cadet review. I'm not that much of an ogress, whatever you may think after the last few days. How's your headache?"
He shrugged. "Fading, but I can still feel it. It's not responding to medication very fast." He sat down on the low upholstered bench and leaned against the wall.
"There are other ways of taking care of headaches, especially if they're tension-related."
"I remember. I don't suppose you'd have a few centons...?" It sounded very presumptuous when spoken aloud.
She studied him for a moment, blinking, with a slow smile.
"You were probably planning on going to bed right away...." he tried to recover hastily, then shut up, realizing that sounded even worse.
"No, actually, I do have a few centons – I often get so aggravated at this bureaucratic garbage that I can't sleep for a centar anyway." She moved swiftly from her desk to stand in front of him.
Close up, the short, belted shift was even more interesting. He tried not to stare, but he couldn't avoid the teasing hint of some lingering scent. He wondered if she'd planned on a turboshower before turning in; it made an inspiring mental image that he hastily suppressed.
"Sometimes I just pour an ambrosa and grumble to myself for a while. Maybe a drink would help your head, too? Along with the massage?" she suggested.
"Sounds like a wonderful idea." He smiled, watching with some pleasure as she pulled out two chalices and a bottle of something. "Personal stock?" he asked as she poured. Another vivid image surfaced to leave him with a dry throat.
Electra laughed. "I guess you could say that. Actually, this isn't really ambrosa. It's something Pegasus-brewed; I'm not sure what Edric calls it. He changes the name with almost every batch, and I suspect the recipe changes with almost every batch, too. But it's always good, has the right effect, and hasn't killed anybody yet." She handed him the cup.
He drank. "Umm," he murmured appreciatively. "Not ambrosa, but good. Edric. He's not familiar...."
"One of our Viper techs. You probably haven't met him yet. Strange fellow, but he's got quite a reputation. Claims if it's animal he can befriend it; if it's mineral he can make it fly; and if it's vegetable he can make booze out of it. I can speak for the booze and what he can do with a damaged ship. As for the animals, you should see how fast the Delphian children adopted him. He also makes wonderful toys."
Apollo laughed outright. "I'll have to meet him."
"Refill?" She held out the bottle.
He met her eyes, and was reminded of a stormy Caprican sunset, all in shades of blue and violet. A pulse like a too-near thunderclash ran through his body. "Actually...." He rubbed his temple.
"Ah, yes, your headache." She thought his eyes were the clear green of the Caprican Sea, and knew the booze was taking effect, because she felt as though she were drowning in them. What happened next was welcome and not really a surprise.
She set down her chalice. He caught her hand and raised it to his lips to kiss her fingertips, then her palm. His free arm circled her waist; she slid toward him without resistance, meeting his kiss. When he breathed a line of fire down her throat and into her garment, she gasped, then tangled her fingers in his thick dark hair and pulled him closer.
The ball bounced out of the court wall, into the Red player's waiting arms. He threw himself to one side to avoid the White player's attempted grab. Tossing the ball across the court, he slipped past the other man to catch his own rebound. White responded more quickly than Red had anticipated; a legal block, and White had control of the ball. Red lunged, hoping for a joint possession call, but there was no officiator to make such a determination. The two players slammed to the floor together, and the ball slipped free. They scuffled for a moment, but White was on his back, and Red regained his feet more quickly. He snatched the ball and was across the court before White could recover. A leap into a mid-air twist, and the ball soared into the blackness of the goal cavity. The board sounded Red's mark, and the score was tied again.
"Good moves!" his opponent panted approvingly. White still stood where the two had fallen, bracing himself with his arms on his knees, leaning over to catch his breath. "Take a breather ... call it a game?"
The two men left the confined triad court, pulling off their triad helmets as they went and pushing sweat-plastered blond hair off their foreheads. Both grabbed small cups of electrolyte-laced water and dropped to seats in the turboshower room.
"You're good, little brother," the man in white triad gear announced after a moment.
"I should be," responded the man in red as he peeled off the protective padding at his elbows and arms. "Apollo and I are the fleet champions."
"You mean I'm finally going to have some competition?" Orestes responded wickedly. He leaned forward to undo and remove his boots.
"I thought Trent and Rissian were the best on this ship!"
"Team, yes. But I'm best at triad solo. Not everyone who's good as part of a team can play it alone. I'm guessing you and Apollo must play against each other at times – we lefties learn a few tricks that a lot of right-dominant people don't pick up on immediately. And you react to those moves too quickly, like you know what I'm doing before I've finished thinking of it."
"That's true," Starbuck acknowledged with a laugh. "Speaking of Apollo, he's probably wondering where I am, being my conscience and all...."
"You mean he's known you this long and can't figure out you're ... playing, when you're not in your bunk at curfew?" Orestes side-armed a boot at him, then slithered out of the rest of his triad uniform.
"He figures out plenty! Probably thinks I'm with a woman right now. We've been friends a long time...."
"Which brings up the question, met anybody yet? Of the female persuasion? The personal type?"
"A few," Starbuck replied slyly. "You've got some nice ladies on this ship...." And he would be meeting one of them after this game.
"You're telling me?" Orestes grinned. "Just one warning, however. Keep your eyes and hands off Astarte."
"No, she's taken. She doesn't let me stray any more, and quite frankly, I'm not much interested in wandering at the moment. But the game works both ways – she doesn't stray either. However, I'd rather not throw temptation in her way...."
"You calling me temptation?"
"Little brother, we are much alike," Orestes stated sly, then grabbed a towel and disappeared into the turboshower.
Starbuck suddenly felt a mixture of emotions surface, now that the adrenalin of the game was subsiding into physical weariness. He enjoyed being with his half-brother; he couldn't deny that. There hadn't been any time to get to know him when he first learned of their relationship, but making up for lost time was almost fun. They were indeed much alike, and Orestes was an easy man to get to know, in most respects – as Electra has been, in those first sectons. But grief had overshadowed everything then. They had believed both Apollo and Orestes dead, along with Boomer and several others. There had been no time to cement relationships that had no proving of time to sustain them.
Starbuck couldn't help remembering something their father, Chameleon, had said when he first encountered that old scoundrel – that one couldn't make up for lost yahrens. Well, one could certainly make the most of the ones at present and to come! Starbuck had spent some time with his father; Chameleon had visited frequently, and the time had been good. Now, there were good times with another member of his family. Considering the game they'd just played, he and his brother might even make a good team, in more ways than one.
Starbuck had to smile. Family. The word felt good, rolling around in his thoughts.
But it brought an uneasy intruder to his mind. It was a feeling of disloyalty. He'd been rather busy the last few days, almost tagging along behind Orestes, not spending much time with Apollo. He hoped his friend understood.
"He must," Starbuck murmured. "After all, there was Zac...."
That only made it worse. He didn't like feeling as though he'd abandoned his best friend, and the memories.... But they were still wingmates; they flew together; they played triad as a team; they often relaxed together; there had been times when they were younger that they'd gotten into various mischiefs together. How much time could one reasonably expect of one's friend? They had to make their own lives. And he and Apollo had been through too much together in their lives to ever really let their friendship wither. Memories came back from their long friendship – the Academy, their earliest missions, all they'd endured and survived....
"Wonder what's happening on the Galactica now?"
But that line of thought was too melancholy. Determinedly, Starbuck sloughed the rest of his gear, then grabbed a towel and headed into the steamy heat of the turboshower.
And afterward, there were the smoldering embers of a passionate redhead to keep any thoughts from chilling him.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy