THE WAY WE WERE

The word spread rapidly through the remaining crew of the Pegasus. They'd expected to hear that they'd be returning to the fleet – but they weren't. Cain was leading them ... elsewhere. They were taking down Gamoray one more time ... and then they would be on their own. Lt. Rissian wound up delivering the news to a group of more junior Silver Spar pilots.

"Really?" Falstaff asked. "We're on our own again? The way we were before? Cain took us away from the fleet? We're really not going back?"

"But...." Ptah began to object, then stopped, unsure what to say.

Trent just stared at Rissian, stunned.

Rissian nodded back at the younger warriors, jaw firmly set. "Warriors, we've handled it for two yahrens, we can handle it again. We'll do our job, the same way we always have," he told them firmly. He kept his feelings to himself – but inside, he knew he was a little bit pleased. The Cylons could never pay enough for the deaths they'd caused – and if the Galactica wasn't going to be fighting unless it had to, well, he'd rather be elsewhere, he admitted to himself. Somewhere like over Gamoray, as they would be again in the morning.

A moment of silence.

"I need a drink...." Falstaff finally said somberly.

"You got something hidden in your locker?" Ptah asked.

"No, I figured the O club, you know we're not allowed to keep–" The heavy-set sergeant stopped talking for a micron, then finished, subdued, "The O club will be closed, won't it...."

"Most likely," Rissian confirmed.

"Huh? Why?" Trent finally found words.

"Well, I mean ... Dionys was the bartender. That's not essential personnel – he'll have shuttled back to the fleet with the rest," Trent said, looking at Rissian.

"They wouldn't close the O club.... We need it! I mean, not that we need to get drunk, but we need the club...."

"Even with the club, it wouldn't be the same without Dionys...."

"Has anybody been there since we left the fleet?"

"Are you kidding? We've all been too busy patchin' things up after takin' on those two basestars...."

The warriors glanced around at each other again, then moved as one, heading for the officers' club.

* * * * *

The door was unsealed. That wasn't unusual.

Rissian halted in the doorway; the others were forced to stop behind him.

Three groups of warriors looked up expectantly at him. He saw their expressions fall and shoulders droop at seeing who it was.

"No Dionys?" he asked.

Wordless headshakes were the only response.

"Bar's open though?" Falstaff asked hopefully, peering over his shoulder at some of the tables, seeing the mugs and cards.

"It's intact, if that's what you mean...."

"Only water or caff, and serve yourself," Daystar called to them, holding up his mug and shaking his head. "Believe me, it ain't the same."

The newcomers clustered around the conversation corner with Daystar and the others.

"Are we just waiting for Dionys?" Falstaff asked hopefully.

"Could be a long wait," the captain said, staring at the wall. "Cain shipped all the non-essential personnel back to the fleet."

"But ... but he's essential!"

"Oh, yeah? And what absolutely essential, can't-run-the-ship-without-it post does he fill?"

They all contemplated the thought, which only confirmed what they'd feared.

"So who's gonna run the bar?" Ptah asked plaintively.

"Don't know if anybody is."

After a few more centons of silence, Rissian raised his voice and asked the room in general, "Has anybody been here in the past few days, since we left the fleet? Does anybody know what the plan is for the bar?"

Nobody had been there in the last few hectic days. Nobody knew the plan.

"This isn't good," Trent muttered.

Martin sloshed his mug at them. "Fill 'em up and join us...."

They did.

"So what're we talking about?" Rissian asked. "Besides the absence of Dionys and the O club being about as much fun as the second day of an Otori send-off celebration."

That got a few half-hearted guffaws.

"Unfortunately," replied Daystar, "that was about the extent of the conversation so far."

"So let's change the subject. Gotta be something more cheerful to discuss."

There was a moment's silence.

"Well," one of the other pilots at the table said, with a bit of a grin, eager but almost unwilling and uncomfortable at the same time. "I found out I had family left in the fleet."

"Family? Really?" Trent asked. "That's great! Who?"

"Yeah. A couple of my cousins. Amerotke and Meren, and Meren's wife. They got a baby on the way. I'm going to be an uncle!"

"Here's to uncle-hood!" said Martin.

"Three cheers for Uncle Horus!" added Daystar, standing up and announcing it to the entire room.

They all raised their mugs and glasses in celebration with him, smiling. Nobody corrected the degree of kindred – of those in the Pegasus crew who'd actually had an opportunity to check the personnel records, very few had actually found any surviving kin or friends. The population of the Colonies had been in the tens of billions; less than a hundred thousand had survived the Destruction and reached a ship, then escaped the ambush at Carillon, and now lived in the overcrowded fleet. Any living relative or acquaintance was cause for celebration. There was pain and envy in some hearts, but these warriors had been together too long not to try to share the happiness of the lucky few. They clustered around, eager to hear of any links to their lost home. Hopeful voices spilled over each other.

"You had time to see the fleet roster? Did you happen to see anybody named Beka?"

"Maybe Teret and Sleera? From Aquara? That's my parents–"

"How about Karawin? Or maybe Herne? Or–"

"And Zander – did you see Zander?"

"Galadin, you'd know if you saw Galadin, he'da made it if anybody–"

"Whoah," Horus interrupted the sudden flow of names. "Sorry, guys, when I checked the records I only asked for Sagittarans, and I'm afraid I don't remember all the names – once I got past my family and saw my cousins, I kinda stopped looking, my turn was over...."

Half a dozen pilots seemed to deflate.

Daystar stepped in. "Hey, we know. We understand. Too bad there wasn't time for all of us to have a look at the roster, or enough time with the fleet for the people we know to call us and let us know...."

With a collection of sighs, the conversation died again.

After a moment, Trent asked, "So, did anybody here get a message?"

They all looked at each other.

"My brother Bronton's alive," Bori announced in his usual quiet tones. "He's a shuttle pilot now, civilian. He was able to call me from his shuttle, using one of our military channels, and he let me know about some other survivors to pass along. He knew about Lygia's parents being alive–"

"Probably why she let him through," Ptah mumbled in his generally cynical way.

"And med tech Twyla's two brothers."

"Hey, if they're anything like her, I wouldn't wanna be the Cylon that came up against 'em!" Rissian grinned.

It was a triple reason to celebrate.

"Here's to Bronton, a brother to be proud of!" Daystar announced, lifting his mug again. "Smart enough to get through to Bori and considerate enough to deliver good news for others of us!"

After that, things almost seemed to settle into their normal routine for the O club.

Almost.

* * * * *

It was about a centar later when the lean, middle-aged man came into the lounge, his riotously curly red hair as unkempt looking as ever. He scanned the room for a centon, sensing the environment, and was pleased with it.

At that micron, Trent saw him. His mug to his mouth, he suddenly choked and spewed water across the table, coughing.

As the others quickly turned to see what was wrong with their friend, Rissian glimpsed the newcomer. One hand jerked out to fasten on Daystar's wrist, tightening in a grip of tylinium that would leave a bruise.

"Hey, what–"

They all looked; they all saw him.

Silence exploded.

In the silence, Dionys strode to the bar and walked around it, then faced the room with a big grin.

"Okay, warriors – bar's open, come on up! Who's gonna be first?"

They stared.

"Now, come on, you can't all be in the mood for water tonight!"

"But ... but ... we thought ... you were gone!" Ptah sputtered.

"Now why would you think a thing like that?"

"Well, the Galactica ... the fleet ... we left the non-essential personnel behind...."

Dionys scoffed, looking a little offended. "And who says I'm non-essential personnel? You think I'm leaving this bird without me behind the bar?"

The warriors started laughing, unable to stop for their relief. Dionys's presence maintained a little semblance of normalcy and tradition in their world, which had turned upside down and then right side up again, over the past two sectons, leaving none of them the same.

"Well, we thought...."

Dionys waved a finger. "Now you listen here. From my first assignment on a little old warbird called the Hyperion, there's one thing I learned – it's essential that humans have a chance to relax, to get away from work and congregate and talk to each other away from ranks and rules and regulations. And I'm in charge of one of those places. Right here.

"So, warriors, what'll it be? Come on up to the bar. I hear you've got a meeting tomorrow at Gamoray, but tonight you've got a meeting here. We've got some new ambrosa shipped in from the fleet, thanks to the foresight of yours truly, and a fresh supply of Edric's special baharii, and even a little Sagittaran glenwater...."

They gathered.

* * * * *

"Now that sounds like you! So tell me, did you happen to catch the girl's name?" he asked as he handed over the refilled tankard.

Martin grinned. "Sorrell. Sweet wild Sorrell." He lingered over her name like a caress. "A Caprican planter's daughter. She became a shuttle pilot after Carillon, joined the squadrons at Kobol. Used to be an archivist, of all things."

"Ah! You got her name and biography!"

"Yeah. She says her favorite color's bronze, and I think blue's gonna be my favorite color from now on...."

"Mmm, yeah, you got the important details. But will you remember her a secton from now! That could be the question." Dionys leaned closer, winking, inviting confidences.

"I'll remember her," he answered with conviction, his smile and his eyes a quadrant away on another ship.

Dionys punched him once in the upper arm, lightly, to bring him back to reality, then heard another call for baharii, and waved himself off, leaving Martin to contemplate his current favorite lady. But he knew Martin pretty well by now – "sweet wild Sorrell" would be raised to iconhood in absentia; but when or if the battlestars rejoined, Martin would be looking elsewhere within a sectar – and he'd probably manage to convince the woman it was her idea for them to see other people, and still see each other for a while!

He shook his head and pulled out another bottle of Edric's best.

* * * * *

"No, it goes like this – ta da, da-da-da, ta-da-da, boom, boom, then into a crescendo!" Rissian insisted, waving his index finger, then bringing his fist down for the imaginary climax.

"Oh, come on," Daystar argued, "that's missing an entire fourth note! It's gotta be presto! Da-da-da-da, then ta-da-da-da." He gestured with his tankard, sloshing about half of it onto the bar.

"Hey, that's the way Gav always sang it, and if anybody knew their Libran opera, it was Gavain!"

"If that's the way he sang it, he sang it wrong!"

"Hey, quit wasting perfectly good baharii!" Dionys interrupted, passing by.

"Dionys, you know music," Daystar grabbed his sleeve. "You tell him!"

"What I know about Libran opera wouldn't make up the difference between what you had in that mug a centon ago and what you've got there now," he replied amiably. "Why don't you check the music databanks? I'm betting we got five recordings of that piece, at least – it was the most played piece of Libran music for about six sectars, a couple years ago."

"That's it!" Rissian said, one finger poking Daystar's chest. "That'll prove it!"

"It'll prove you're wrong is what it'll prove!" Rissian poked back. "Let's go...."

He watched the two men head for the door, grinning. "The problem with that proving anything," he announced to anyone who was listening, "is that half of 'em played it wrong, and none of 'em played it the same!"

Falstaff nearly fell off his stool laughing.

* * * * *

"I feel so alone!" Tamyris complained. "Darius is on the Galactica – we've been wingmates for four yahrens! How am I supposed to fly without him? Do you know how hard it's going to be to get used to not having him here?"

"You mean getting used to it again, don't you?" Dionys sent the mug of Edric's best zooming down the bar into Gemma's waiting hand, earning a bright, grateful grin from the petite pilot.

"Huh?"

"Well, he's not your first wingmate. Who did you fly with before Darius?"

"Uh ... well, Isis."

"And what happened to Isis?" Dionys had heard of Isis, he knew this wouldn't be opening too many old wounds.

"She ... got promoted. She became the exec for Ice Station Thule."

"Ooh, hated it, I'll bet."

"Loved it! How in hades a Sagittaran delta woman, who didn't even know what snow was until she went to the Academy, fell in love with that ice bucket, I'll never know!"

"But you survived when she left."

"Yes!"

"Didn't even consider going with her, did you?"

"Frak, no! Are you kidding?" Tamyris shot back, disbelief in her musical voice. "I prefer to have ice in my drinks, not my boots, thank you very much!"

"And you weren't leaving your ship, were you?"

"No, I wasn't...."

"So you resigned yourself to putting up with Darius, young egotistical punk that he was. Did he really try to set you up with his brother?"

"Yeah." She had to grin a little. "I remember I had to whip him into line...."

"And you don't think you can whip a new wingmate into line?"

"Of course I can!"

"Keeping in mind, of course, that it'll probably be somebody you've known and even flown with occasionally for the last two yahrens."

"Well, that's...."

"You just don't want to, because it won't be Darius?"

"I...." She closed her mouth. "Yeah.... I'm gonna miss Darius."

He touched her hand for a moment. "I know. We'll miss a lot of people...."

They sighed as one. Then she found a little smile.

"I think I'll go join Gemma and Elaine. See if I can talk the captain into giving me somebody good to fly with...."

"I think I'll go pour another round. I know it'll be good."

* * * * *

"Sure you don't want something stronger than caff?" Dionys asked as he poured the steaming liquid into the cup.

"I'm certain," Sherlock replied calmly. "We're busy tonight with some recalibration checks before ... tomorrow. I just needed a few moments away to think and stretch my legs."

"And you came here? Why not the mess hall?"

The chief engineer glanced around at the gathered warriors, talking, laughing, sharing, bonding anew with their diminished numbers.

"Because this is what I needed to see," was his reply.

"Say," Dionys asked before he could leave, "I know the senior officers had first crack at looking at the fleet survivor roster. Did you take the opportunity? Find anybody you knew?"

"I didn't look."

"Oh." Dionys tilted his head. "Why'd you pass?"

Sherlock took a sip. "I resigned myself long ago to the inevitability that my family was gone. Finding the fleet did not alter that. The odds were ... not in their favor."

"From what I'm hearing in here tonight, doesn't sound like most of the pilots share that fatalism. They all found a little hope when we found the Galactica."

"So I gathered. That's why I gave one of my techs my turn. He found a nephew on their orphan ship."

"Whoah. Must be hard for him to be leaving again...."

"He was non-essential personnel. He stayed with the fleet." Sherlock took another sip, nodded a farewell, and headed out the door with his caff.

Dionys watched him go. "Hunh," was all he could say. "An engineer, non-essential. Right. And they claim that man's got no feelings but impatience...."

* * * * *

"How about one for the future addition to the family?" Dionys asked. He could see that Horus wasn't looking particularly jovial.

Horus sighed. "The baby isn't here yet." He looked down into his empty mug – which had been empty, in Dionys's estimation, for nearly a centar, as the pilot sat off by himself in the most shadowed corner of the lounge.

"Do they think something might go wrong?"

"No." He sighed again, more deeply.

"Is it, that you won't be around to see them for a while, and you're gonna worry about them while we're gone?"

"Yeah...."

"And that as great as it is to have some family left, you'd really love to have found your parents and your little sister there too?"

Horus looked up at him, surprised.

"And," he continued more quietly, "you feel guilty for wishing that, like you're asking for too much, when you can guess what your cousins must have gone through to survive, and when so many of these guys don't have anybody left at all, except each other. And maybe, after the rush of that first centon's joy, you even thought that you'd have traded the cousins and that little baby on the way, for just one of the people you grew up with – and you hate yourself for even thinking that?"

"How'd you know?" All of a sudden, there were tears in Horus's dark eyes.

"Because you're not the only one," he replied equally softly. "I'm not gonna tell you to feel lucky because you've got somebody – you've already told yourself that. And I'm not gonna tell you there's something wrong with you for being angry that the people you most loved didn't survive – it's not wrong, it's natural. Survivors go through that."

"I feel like a monster ... a selfish, cruel monster.... Am I going to be able to be happy for them?"

"You're not a monster. You're human. You've got human emotions. You got a little grieving still to do for the family, but you'll get through it. And I guarantee you, when we hook back up with the fleet, and you see that little kid for the first time, and the look on your cousin's face when you walk in, you'll be fine."

It was a hard-won smile, through a few tears, but it came. "Thanks, Dionys," he said huskily.

"Any time. And now," he said more briskly, "I think you might have had enough. Think you can make it to your bunk yourself, or do you need a hand?"

"I'll be fine. You probably noticed, I haven't really been drinking...."

"I noticed. 'Night, Horus."

* * * * *

"It just won't be the same," the warrior grumbled.

"No, it won't," Dionys acknowledged practically, leaning on his elbows. "But look at it this way, it's a good thing we still got each other."

"At least as many of us as there are," Ptah mumbled back. "Seems like half the crew got sent back to the fleet as non-essential."

The bartender lowered his face almost to the bar to meet him eye-to-eye. "Eh, look at it this way, Ptah," he said. "You won't have to share a billet anymore, so you can put together a piscine tank any size you want. Raise Libran muddowners a metron long. Keep a half-dozen schools of rainbow stargleams. Breed some more of those delicate webtails you love."

One thing that could be counted on – mention of his fish could evoke a positive reaction from Ptah when nothing else could. One side of his lips twitched. His glum expression turned into a smile as he contemplated the possibilities.

Dionys moved down the bar.

* * * * *

Two bells. The traditional closing time. The absolute end of the evening, even if it ran into the following morning.

"All right, ladies and gentlemen," Dionys announced to the handful of stragglers who remained, "hate to throw you out, but you got a mission tomorrow, from what I understand. If you want to keep going, you'll have to do it over caff in the mess hall."

The last half dozen grumbled good-naturedly, then waved good nights to him and to each other, and headed out the door.

Alone for the first time that evening, Dionys moved out into the club and began cleaning up. He had chosen to stay, citing his personally determined essential status, but none of his assistants had. This place was his home and his mission to Dionys, and he wasn't leaving it; to the others who'd worked with him, it was mostly just a job. He gathered tankards and chalices of all types, lining them up at the bar to be run through the cleansing unit, then wiped down the tables and mopped up somebody's spilled, sticky baharii. He checked the inventory and made himself some notes on which to restock before opening the next day.

Finally drawing a drink for himself, he sank down into a seat, off his feet for the first time that night. He blew a heavy but satisfied sigh.

"I'm gonna have to get some help in here," he announced to the empty walls. "A couple days of this, I can handle, but not forever." He took a drink, enjoying the smooth burning down his throat. "Maybe some of the crew'll be willing to help me out, take turns. After all," he licked his lips, "some things are essential. A person just has to have his priorities."

And under the circumstances, he expected this place was going to be one.


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