Living With Regret

By Lisa Zaza

One yahren.

It had been one yahren since they had lost everything on the way to a peace conference to sign an Armistice that was in reality the ultimate Cylon plot to lure naïve and willing ovines to the hungry lupus. Hope could be a powerful thing, blinding old men who had once understood that the only way to end a thousand yahren war was through victory or defeat. But in retrospect, even Apollo had dared to hope.

Listen, maybe I ought to go along . . . Starbuck had offered. When Apollo had come across his undressed wingman and younger brother in the billet, it had taken the strike captain all of about two microns to figure out from Starbuck's strange behaviour, and Zac's all too obvious eagerness that between the two of them, they were up to something.

No, he's going to be just fine. It's not as if we're at war. Right? Apollo had replied, wanting to give his little brother the chance that Zac so desperately wanted, to fly this routine patrol before peacetime became a comfortable way of life.

Apollo picked up his glass, swirling the amber liquid around one more time, watching the golden depths as he thought about his mother and Zac. With Ila, it had been a little bit easier. Parsecs away in Caprica City, there was nothing he could have done, and he knew it. Besides, that was his father's burden to bear.

Apollo's was Zac.

What does it mean? His brother had asked when they had discovered the Cylon task force at the old moon. Lord, he had been so young . . . too young.

It means there isn't going to be any peace. There may not be much of anything if we don't warn the Fleet.

Do it. I'm short an engine. You know I won't be able to keep up with you.

Zac, I'm not going to leave you.

You have to. I'm putting my foot in that turbo. I'll make it back ahead of them. Now go on. You've got to warn the Fleet. I'll be all right.

You can fly with me anytime, little brother.

Apollo closed his eyes and let out a deep breath, letting the memories wash over him as he took a sip of his drink. He'd been thrilled when he'd heard the news. Zac being posted to the Galactica was going to give them a fresh start. It had been so many yahrens since he had spent any appreciable time with his little brother that he had felt that he'd barely known the man that the mischievous and often annoying boy had become. Their time together had been cut short. It had ended in the blaze of Cylon guns when Apollo had left his brother to fend for himself, down one engine. How many times had he run it over in his mind, wondering if he could have done something different? How many times had he wondered if it would have turned out differently if Starbuck had just followed orders, and not given in to Zac's all too persuasive disposition? If Apollo had had an experienced Colonial Warrior out there with him, he wouldn't have wasted precious microns coaching Zac on what to do next. If he could only get those microns back . . .

They're jamming our transmission. We're not going to make it, giving them our backs! How many of them can you make out?

Four.

When I hit three, you hit your reverse thrusters and maximum breaking flaps. We're gonna give them a little surprise.

That would have been the critical moment. Starbuck would have known what to do. He wouldn't have needed instructions for something they had done countless times before in combat. And Starbuck wouldn't have missed that Cylon Raider. Starbuck would have made it back.

Starbuck would have made it back, just like I did.

"Is this a private sulk, or can anybody join in?"

It was meant to be flippant, but on this day, of all days, Apollo wasn't in the mood for Starbuck's off the cuff remarks. He sighed, taking another sip of his drink without even looking at his wingman, who mounted the bar stool next to him undeterred, raising a hand at the barkeep. A moment later, a grog was in the lieutenant's hands, and he busied himself retrieving the inevitable fumarello and lighting it, going through a ritual that was both familiar and annoying, because it inevitably meant that smoke would soon be wafting Apollo's way, despite the air recycling system and no matter where he sat.

"You get any deeper into that glass, and I'll have to come in after you," Starbuck told him after another centon had passed in silence.

"Starbuck, did it ever occur to you that sometimes a guy just wants to be left alone?" Apollo asked him quietly.

"Well, then he should hide in his quarters where I can't find him, not sit at the bar in the OC," his friend replied, drawing in a deep breath before blowing the smoke out through his nose. "Besides, I thought maybe you'd want some . . . uh . . . company today."

Today.

Yeah, his lieutenant knew only too well that Apollo was mourning his family on the one yahren anniversary of the Destruction, and in true Starbuck fashion, he thought he could somehow make the situation easier to bear through his unparalleled companionship. Normally, Apollo would appreciate the gesture, and to some extent he did now, after a fashion. But there came a time in a man's life where he simply needed to sit quietly and reflect to get past his bitterness and sorrow. Had Apollo ever even taken the precious time to grieve when Zac had been killed? No, he'd been too overwhelmed by everything else that had happened. It had felt like he had been barely hanging onto his reason, riding wave after wave of disillusionment and disappointment while what was left of the once great Colonial Nation tried to scramble into action, and escape the pursuing Cylons. In retrospect, there had been no time to surrender to grief, or to give in to contemplation. Too many people had needed him.

Father, Athena, Serina, Boxey . . .

Starbuck simply didn't understand that. Self-refection to the warrior was something distasteful that one did in therapy, not reality. There was nothing like a few drinks and a good card game, or a bit of female companionship to cheer a guy up, and Starbuck was the master of cheer. To him it was mandatory. Real men didn't sit moaning over their losses; they drank to fallen comrades, recognizing the loss, but quickly moving past it, while maintaining the high spirits that would propel them all back into their Vipers when they were called on again. While Apollo could certainly understand that, and in fact, practiced that way of life from day to day, he couldn't maintain the façade today.

Of all days.

An entire yahren he'd lived with the guilt, wearing it on his shoulders like an epaulette of shame. He'd examined every detail, and had exhausted every tactical possibility. One decision to replace Starbuck with Zac might have decided the fate of the Colonial Nation. And as much as Apollo realized he couldn't go back and change the past, those niggling "what if's" still tormented him when he found rare moments of solitude, and his brother's voice came back to haunt him.

Hurry, Apollo!

So how different would it have been if it had been Starbuck, not Zac, out there? Would they have made it back to the Fleet in time to launch their defences? Would Zac still be alive today? Oh, he knew that he should let it go . . . that nobody else would have obsessed over a decision that he had made an entire yahren ago now, thoughtlessly and in mere milli-centons, and yet it had left its mark on Apollo and his family inexorably. He should just put it behind him, and turn a page from the Book of Starbuck . . . He lifted his drink, taking another sip, as beside him his friend shifted on his seat.

"I . . . uh . . . I should have gone on that patrol. It was my responsibility. . . I shouldn't have given in." Starbuck murmured quietly, his hair shielding his face as he leaned forward, studying all too intently the ash from his fumarello, as it broke off and dropped into the receptacle. Softly, he tapped the ashtray with his smoke, rolling the fumarello between his fingers in contemplation. He sighed, and cleared his throat, his voice now surprisingly thick with long repressed emotion. "Apollo, if I could go back and change it, I would . . . I'd gladly trade places with Zac, and take that patrol. I just . . . I just wanted you to know that."

And before Apollo could even process the words, so deep was he in his reverie, the grog was abruptly pushed away. Starbuck jerked to his feet, standing for a moment, apparently flustered, and by the looks of his flushed face, embarrassed. Then with a wave of his fumarello, he turned and left the bar as quickly as he had come, leaving Apollo to stare after him. Abruptly, the captain realized that he wasn't the only one living with regret.

Thanks as always to Senmut, my trusted and true beta-reader extraordinaire.