Tucson, Arizona. August 1969
"So...I have to ask. Why Tucson?"
Apollo finished pushing the box all the way to the open rear doors of the U-haul truck before jumping down to join his friend. They'd been moving Apollo, Sheba, and Boxey out of their apartment and into their new home for most of the day, and faced with the heat of the desert summer they'd been working mostly in silence. This was the first time Starbuck had broken their companionable rhythm of moving furniture and boxes from truck to ramp to house in hours.
As hot and tired as he was getting, and as sore as he knew he'd be tomorrow, Apollo was enjoying the feel of hard physical work under a sun filled sky. From the way Starbuck followed Apollo in cheerfully yanking his t-shirt off a few hours ago, slathering on sunscreen (something the people of Earth knew about and manufactured, but oddly most of them didn't seem to think they needed to wear) and just letting the dry heat and the dust bake into his skin, Apollo suspected he felt the same. It had been years since Apollo had been this covered in actual soil, instead of industrial grease, and years since he'd carried around boxes of books and games and toys, instead of weaponry or engine parts.
Sheba had taken one look at them both covered in caked-on dirt and sweat, started laughing, and then simply refused to let them walk into the house. So she took the boxes from the front porch into the various rooms of the house they belonged in, and they did all the unloading of the truck. Boxey refilled water bottles and ran them back and forth and kept disappearing up to his newly-furnished room to play with various toys and games as they came out of the boxes.
Apollo grabbed one of the water bottles and upended it over his head, letting the coolness trickle down his back, before answering. "What's wrong with Tucson? And I've been here almost a year already. Why are you asking me now?"
"You just bought a house, Pol. Living in Tucson to go to university and get your anthropology degree so you can finally dissect mummies is one thing..."
"I'm not dissecting..." Apollo trailed off as Starbucks lips quirked up. "Ok, fine, I want to get my hands on a mummy. "
"You've always wanted to get your hands on a mummy." Starbuck replied drily, before continuing on. "But buying a house, going after a teaching gig, and overseeing the Green Valley build seems pretty permanent. Your Dad gave you your choice of locations. Since you grew up at the beach, I thought you'd want to be near the ocean." He spread his arms, the gesture somehow encompassing everything from the dusty brown sandy soil at his feet to the cactus garden in the front yard to the pounding dry heat and blazing sun. "Not only is there no ocean here, Pol. There isn't even any water."
He sounded vaguely affronted, and Apollo couldn't help his amused grin at the expression on his friend's face. Starbuck's love for the ocean was apparent from the very first time he came home on the bus from school with Apollo and saw the sprawling beach below the Adama family house.
But Apollo caught the undercurrent in Starbuck's words as well. The house, marriage, raising Boxey, thinking of having more children, thoughts of a career path that had nothing to do with war, actual plans for the future. Apollo had all those things now, his friend did not. Apollo couldn't help but wonder how different things would be if Cassiopeia had lived to find Earth. But they'd had those painful conversations already, and there was no purpose in revisiting them now.
"Maybe I like the desert and I don't really like people?" Apollo offered, knowing the comment wouldn't be taken seriously.
Starbuck’s only reply to that was a disbelieving look at him. Starbuck's affinity for Los Angeles, with its big city energy, its quirky neighborhoods and its wide beaches didn't surprise Apollo. The orphanages his friend had spent his childhood being shuttled between had all been in the large cities, where Starbuck had mastered the act of simply disappearing into the chaos of daily life. "I don't really like a lot of people." He'd said once to Apollo, when it was just the two of them spending the day hiking a narrow, rocky canyon trail. Apollo had found it was easier to get Starbuck to talk about anything personal when they weren't face to face. "And I don't trust any of them. Not with anything important, anyway." Apollo had said nothing about those words coming out of his friends mouth five minutes after he had his hand around Starbuck's lower arm and wrist, pulling him up one of the more challenging steep sections of path. "But when you're surrounded by them, no one is really paying any attention to you. You can become anyone, pretend to be anything, and no one thinks about whether any of it is real or true. Most people don't take the time to look beneath the surface, and it's just so easy to take advantage of that."
"And now you're not answering my question." Starbuck was now leaning against the back of the truck with his arms folded. "Look, it's just hard for me to see the appeal of this. Reminds me a little too much of that planet I was marooned on."
"Oh." Apollo said softly, brought up short by remembering the agonizing month it had taken for the fleet to evade the cylons for long enough to risk a rescue ship making the jump back to where Starbuck and Boomer had been ambushed. Boomer had told them that the planet was barely habitable, and Starbuck's Viper had sustained such severe battle damage that Starbuck himself had made it clear to Boomer that he wasn't sure he could get it down in one piece and the fleet shouldn't risk anyone's lives to come back for what would very likely be a corpse.
They went back to check anyway, and the first thing they discovered was Starbuck hadn't gotten the Viper down in one piece. They found pieces of it scattered over a kilometer-long crash site, an intact cylon raider, all three of its crew destroyed by blaster fire, a crudely put together water pump and irrigation system shuttling a trickle of water from a spring in a group of rocks down a long rocky hill, a small garden of edible plants growing at the bottom of the hill, protected by wire; a pop up shelter, hidden from above by a rocky outcropping; and finally Starbuck - starving, dehydrated, sunburnt, sick, covered in cuts and scrapes and still suffering from the after effects of the concussion he'd sustained in the crash, but he'd been very much alive.
Apollo shook himself out of the memory to see his friend giving him a rueful smile. "Sorry." Starbuck offered quietly, then clearly went out of his way to lighten the mood. "But for all that planet's charms, there was nothing like that thing there!" He nodded towards the imposing saguaro cactus in the yard.
"They are crazy, right?" Apollo agreed. "I'm not sure those exist anywhere else in the universe. And this is the only place on Earth they grow." He got a bit more pensive. "I guess that's part of the appeal. Absolutely nothing about this place reminds me of anything on Caprica." He straightened back up and pulled himself back into the U-haul. "Let's finish unloading. Once everything's in the house and we return this thing we can wash off with the hose and maybe Sheba will let us back inside to really get cleaned up and grab a beer in the air conditioning." He looked back down at his friend. "But tell you what. I'll take you out on the bike tonight after dinner and show you why I love it here. Ok?"
It was hours later when Apollo walked the motorcycle out of the garage. They'd returned the truck, cleaned up, changed clothes, and did barbecue in the back yard because the box with the pots and pans hadn't been unpacked yet. Now the sun was setting and the temperature was dropping as Apollo tossed a helmet to his friend and straddled the motorcycle, waiting as Starbuck yanked the helmet on and hopped on the bike behind him. It had been a long time since he'd ridden tandem, and he took the first few minutes slowly, feeling Starbuck settling in behind him, before opening it up a bit on the city streets, getting them both used to the balance. Ten minutes later, he stopped at the entrance ramp to the highway and turned around, flipping the face shield up on his helmet, and waiting for Starbuck to do the same.
Starbuck was grinning, eyes alight and alive in the way they only got when adrenaline was kicking in.
"Ready for speed?" Apollo asked.
"Hang on a sec." Starbuck slid up on the seat until he was flush against Apollo's back. "Pretty sky." He commented softly.
Apollo turned back around. It was, indeed, a beautiful sunset. The sun had mostly disappeared behind the hills ahead of them and the sky and clouds had turned brilliant shades of orange and red and pink. Apollo swallowed hard against a sudden swell of emotion. In two days, he'd start his final courses for his masters degree at the University of Arizona. He would also begin the groundbreak for the Colonial military installation to the west of Green Valley, one of thirty-two that were planned for the planet. Starbuck was heading back to Los Angeles in the morning and in five days would be sent off to Vietnam, embedded in a war zone, on one of the Colonies' recruitment missions. It would be at least a year, and likely longer, before they saw each other again. Apollo knew that neither of them could predict what the intervening time could bring, and he'd learned long ago that any time he was with the people he loved could end up being the final moments he had with them.
He jumped a little at the tap on his back, and flipped his face shield up again as he turned his head.
"Hey." Starbuck said over his shoulder. "You ok?"
"Yeah, sorry." Apollo said. "Got lost in my own head for a minute."
"I noticed. Thinking about the first time we did this? The motorcycle was a bit more high-tech."
Apollo couldn't stop his snort at that memory. "Thought Mom was going to kill us. Or at the very least ground me for the rest of my life."
Starbuck responded by looking up at the sky and waving, then pointed at Apollo's head. "Ila, look! We have helmets on this time!"
Apollo gave him a grin and a shove. "Don't remind her, Star." His smile softened. "Although I'm sure she's still worrying about us, wherever she is. Helmets or not."
They were still for another moment, only the low rumble of the motor interrupting the quiet.
Starbuck, of course, was the one who broke the introspective mood. "So? Are we going to just sit here and watch the traffic lights change all night, or was there something you wanted to show me?"
They were good memories, but Apollo knew it was time to put them away for another day and get back into the moment. "Right." He replied to his friend. "Something to show you. Get your face shield down and hang on."
As he revved the engine, started up the ramp to the highway and felt Starbucks arms wrap around his waist, he tried to memorize the moment in all of his senses. The thrumming of the machine underneath them; the brilliant colors of Earth's sky starting to darken towards night, the bright stars just starting to come out; the faint smell of desert wildflowers and the stronger scent of the cigar they'd shared on the front porch an hour ago; the empty road unwinding in front of them; his best friend's warmth and weight at his back.
Today had been a chance to make a few more good memories for them both to hang onto in the years ahead. For another few hours, the uncertainties of the future could wait.