Spoilers for: Crossroads, part 2
Disclaimer: as always, none of it belongs to me and I make no money off it.
Thanks to millari for the beta.
This fic was remixed as Reverb (Three Toasters, One Dead Body, and Ellen Tigh Walk into a Bar Remix) for the Remix ... Redux VI (appropriately enough)
“Saul, get the frak over here!”
Saul Tigh tore his eyes from the body—the corpse—of Duncan Rafferty, the man who’d showed him the ropes when he showed up fresh from Basic. Chief Kairos was grabbing assault rifles from a locker and passing them out to what was left of his crew; Joannie thrust one into his arms, and swore at him as he almost dropped it, eyes sliding back to what was left of Deckhand Dunk. He’d been butchered, cut open, guts spread out across the deck, smelling of shit. No, not butchered; he’d seen his uncle butchering pigs back home on Aeleron, ribs cracked open. This was pure carnage. Blood was everywhere, sprayed on the walls, the floor. Covering his own boots. Saul pressed a hand to his mouth to keep from vomiting.
“Godsdammit, Saul, get your head together!”
Someone grabbed his arm, and he followed the rest of the crew out. Away from Dunk. He fumbled with the rifle. Hope I remember how to use the damn thing. He’d never thought a deck hand might need the skill.
They holed up for a while, some place Saul didn’t recognize. He copied the others in their gun handling, hoping it would be enough, praying he wouldn’t have to use it. Jamming the hatch. Turning crates and machinery into barricades. Not enough cover for all of them. Saul couldn’t make himself care, staring down at his boots.
Saul raised his head. “You hear that?” he said.
“Hear what, kid?” Jeannie asked, crouching next to him.
“No, I think he’s right,” someone else whispered. “I can hear ‘em coming. Guess those frakking big metal feet aren’t much good for stealth.”
Saul straightened, listening to the pounding, his breath coming in time with the rhythm throbbing in his ears. “There must be some way out of here.”
The door blew open. Saul flinched from the shrapnel, fingers tightening reflexively on his gun.
A Cylon stood in the door, motionless. Saul locked eyes with it, hardly breathing, willing his arms to move. Its red eye stared at him in the smoke-filled darkness. Blood everywhere …Saul blasted it and dove behind the barricade as the rest of the crew opened fire.
The survivors were picked up four hours later and taken back to Caprica; there wasn’t enough left of the old girl to be worth saving. Once Saul had been checked out by the medical staff, he was given a two-day pass and told he’d be shipping out again at the end of it. He made his way out of the hospital before collapsing in a corner of the gardens. He squeezed his eyes shut, Dunk’s vivisected corpse floating behind his eyelids. His blood pounded in his head, to the rhythm of Cylon feet pounding the deck.
Saul looked up at the gruff voice to see Chief Kairos dropping down beside him, holding out a flask.
“Cure for what ails you,” the man said.
Saul grasped the stick, fingers slightly sweaty in his gloves in a way they hadn’t been since the first day in the flight simulator. This wasn’t a training run, those were real Cylon fighters on his display, heading towards the fleet. He wished they’d just get there, already; the waiting was killing him.
You can do this, Saul. Calm down, take a deep breath, just like they taught you. Saul closed his eyes and gave a brief prayer to whoever was listening to get him through his first dogfight—he didn’t really believe in the gods, but it couldn’t hurt. Whether because of the prayer or the deep breaths, he felt a little better.
“Who the frak is humming?” Castor’s voice was higher than usual over the wireless. “We’re about to face the Cylons and you’re humming?”
“Maybe he wants to die with a song on his lips, like Captain Kratai of the Battlestar Eurydice,” Athena put in, mimicking the opening sequence of a popular children’s show. A chorus of nervous chuckles answered her.
“Stay focused, people, they’re almost here,” said the CAG.
Saul glanced up, getting a glimpse of sweeping curves, almost beautiful in their simplicity, before the tense rhythm of battle took all his concentration.
Saul clambered down from his Viper and fumbled with the catch on his helmet. He’d taken it off dozens of times in training, but he’d never been this exhausted by a flight before. Finally managing to get the frakking thing off, he scratched his nose furiously. The itching had been about to drive him nuts.
Saul winced slightly at the sound of his call sign; it certainly wouldn’t have been his first choice of a name, but an instructor with a thing for religion and an accident in his first simulator run had conspired to give it to him. “Yeah?” He turned to face his CAG, helmet dangling from his fingers.
“You did good today, for a rook in his first fight. The humming thing was okay this time. Gave you and the other rooks a way to release some tension. But don’t do it again.”
“Humming thing?” Saul frowned.
“Yeah,” the captain said. “Humming. I know it was you, kid, I’ve heard you sing in the showers and the wireless doesn’t distort it that much.” He hummed a few notes. “Sound familiar?”
Saul swallowed back bile. Red eyes, red blood, everywhere. “Not really.”
The CAG frowned at him. “Hey. You don’t look so hot.”
“I think I need a drink,” Saul said.
“Well, after doing good in your first fight, you’ve earned it,” the CAG said, clapping him on the shoulder.
“Hey, Saul, take a look. Ellen’s trawling tonight.”
Saul tossed a handful of bar nuts in his mouth and turned to look at the woman his friend Jules was pointing at, catching a glimpse of blond, wavy hair as the woman moved through the crowd to the bar.
Saul blinked, and realized he was staring.
“Caprica to Tigh, come in, Tigh,” Jules said, laughing. “Like what you see?”
“Haven’t got a good enough look yet to know,” Saul replied with a grin. “But so far, hell, yeah.”
“Well, you wanna see a lot more, she’s probably your best bet. She likes uniforms, particularly pilots. Likes a good time.”
“Well, it would be a shame to let down the hospitality of the fleet by leaving her there all alone,” Saul said as he stood, keeping his face straight with effort. He didn’t quite manage the voice.
“A real shame,” Jules said, snickering. “By all means, young man, go forth and conquer!” He shooed Saul away with a wave of his hand.
Saul knocked back the last of his drink and straightened his tunic. Satisfied that he looked the part of the daring pilot, he made his way through the crowd to the curvaceous blond at the bar.
“You waiting for anyone in particular?” he asked (Six) her.
Saul blinked; she didn’t look right—no, that was wrong, she looked fine. A very pretty woman in a bar. But the wrong woman.
“ …a girl a drink, flyboy.” She smiled, fingers playing with the top button on her blouse, and Saul blinked as he realized he hadn’t even heard her speak.
He caught the bartender’s eye to cover his confusion, and pasted a smile on his face. “Saul Tigh,” he said, shaking his head to try and clear it. He’d only had one or two drinks, and they’d been pretty watered. So why did his stomach feel like he’d ejected from his Viper and was hanging in vacuum?
“Ellen,” she replied, giving him her hand coyly.
He kissed it, and she tucked it into the crook of his arm as the bartender arrived.
“I’ll have a Frak-in-the-Meadow.” Ellen smirked at him as she said it.
The bartender turned to Saul expectantly. “Ambrosia, straight. Double shot,” he said. He had a feeling he’d need it.
“I still don’t frakking believe this.”
“Cut the chatter, boys and girls.”
Saul watched, silent, as the Cylon fleet retreated behind an invisible line in space. Every ship the Colonial Fleet could scrape up was here, watching, escorting the toasters, making sure nothing slipped through to remain behind in Colonial territory. They’re going. They’re really going. His chest tightened, and for just a few seconds he couldn’t breathe.
“Frakking toasters, slipping away into the night,” Blaze said, swaying drunkenly in the middle of the pilot’s ready room. All the regs were looser, tonight, with the Cylons on their side of the line and (apparently) content to stay there. She took another swig from her mug. “Shoulda toasted ‘em all!”
The room busted into raucous laughter at the pun, for the tenth time. Or was it the hundredth? Saul tried to concentrate past the haze of booze, but gave up. He didn’t think it was that funny.
“Hey, Captain,” Val shouted from where he lay sprawled on the floor, “when’re they gonna start sending us home? My girl’s gettin’ anxious.”
“Are they gonna send us home?” Calypso asked.
And where is home? Saul asked himself. Certainly not Aerilon; he had relatives there, sure, but as a Fleet brat he’d moved around too much to get attached. There was no place in the Colonies that held his loyalty.
“Eventually,” Hornet replied. “Soon’s they get satisfied the Cylons aren’t gonna attack right away, they’ll start mustering everybody out but career-Fleet people. Don’t wanna spend the money it takes to feed Val’s flabby ass, over there.” More rowdy laughter; Val was the skinniest guy on the ship. “Seriously, guys, with the Cylons gone—hopefully for good—they’re gonna want to send us home ASAP.”
“What if we don’ wanna go home?” Blaze asked.
Hornet shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. They’re only keeping the best of the best. Everybody else—back to civvies, like it or not.”
“Hey, I got a girl and a job waiting for me,” Val said with a smile. “Can’t be soon enough, in my opinion.”
A chorus of voices agreed with him. Saul raised a glass with the rest, but his cheer was half-hearted. What would he do without the fleet, without Cylons to fight?
The tables were moved aside, and someone brought out a wireless. Pretty soon there was dancing. Saul stayed in his chair against the wall, nursing his drink. He didn’t think he’d had that much, but his head was already pounding, and not in time with the music.
Blaze spun out of the dance and flopped down beside him. “I,” she said seriously, “am drunk.” She frowned. “Saul, Saul, why do you … why are you … aren’t you having fun?”
Her solemn gaze would have been far more convincing, Saul thought, if she could’ve kept her eyes from crossing as she tried to focus on him. “I am having fun,” he said gruffly.
“Good! Good.” She swayed gently in her chair. “Watcha gonna do nex’?” She snickered, reaching for the bottle on the table next to her. “Got a … got a … got a guuuuurl?” She took a swig from the bottle before holding it out to him.
Saul thought of Ellen. They’d kept in touch, meeting up whenever he had leave. He’d never quite managed to shake the feeling that something was wrong there, at least not totally, but they always had a lot of fun together. And maybe he could make it right. “Yeah.” He held out his cup for her to fill.
Saul marched through the Galactica’s corridors, Tory Foster at his heels. My name is Saul Tigh … That’s the man I’ll be … if I die today, that’s the man I’ll be. Gods, he wanted nothing more than to be back in his quarters, bottle in hand. It was so tempting to bury his head in the sand again.
If he did that, they won.
If he crawled into a bottle now, they would have determined who he was. What he was.
Bill was giving an order to arm the nukes when Saul walked in. He was cool, collected, looking so familiar after years of running battles. Saul stared at him, forcing himself to look at the man who trusted him, who depended on him, who didn’t know what he was.
“It’s good to see you, Colonel,” was the Admiral’s only response to his late arrival.
“It’s good to be here, Admiral,” Saul replied. It was true; he couldn’t remember ever being happier to be anywhere, and that included landing on Galactica after New Caprica. “You can count on me.” It was a promise to himself as much as to his old friend.
“I’ve never doubted it,” Bill said absently, eyes glued to the DRADIS screen above him. Off to the side, Foster took her place with Roslin.
Saul met her gaze, forcing his face to be still, before turning back to his duties. That’s the man I’m going to be.
“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief,
“There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”
”No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke,
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
***Note: Adrastos (meaning “not inclined to run away”) was a character in Greek myth that accidentally killed Atys, the man he was assigned to protect.