Actions

Work Header

Act Of Faith

Work Text:

Act Of Faith
by Athena13
Athena13@mitiori.com

<><><><><><><><><><>
I tell you honestly, don't you go and throw your heart away
I know it's hard to do,
you've got to let go when you want to hold on.
<><><><><><><><><><>
Prologue - Seven Sectars Earlier
<><><><><><><><><><>

"No Starbuck, we can't do this anymore. No, actually__I_ can't do this anymore," Athena kept her eyes firmly on the ground in front of her feet. Despite her resolve, she couldn't bring herself to look him in the eyes.

"Can't do what?" Starbuck crossed his arms, a devilish gleam in his eyes as he anticipated the challenge he was certain she was throwing out.

"Date you," Athena finally looked him in the face. "It's done, over. She's won. I give up," she finished in an extremely serious tone.

"Huh?" Starbuck's arms dropped to his sides as the seriousness of her statement began to sink in. "What are you talking about? Don't tell me you're still mad about what happened on the Rising Star? How was I supposed to know you were going to change your duty schedule. You said no so I invited Cassiopeia to join me," he defended himself for the umpteenth time. "I've already apologized, more than once."

"And you didn't bother to tell me when I did show up. Not Starbuck the stud. Instead you decided to make a cycle of it with _both_ of us. You can't apologize for that, not when you keep doing the same things over and over again," Athena said in exasperation as he made her explain yet again why she found his actions wrong.

"Aurora I could handle. I could even handle all those other women because what we shared was special and I didn't want to pressure either of us to commit before we were ready. Quite frankly Starbuck, it's just not special anymore and it hasn't been for a long time. In fact, it's about as far from special as we could possibly get without bloodshed. We're family Starbuck and if I continue to let you treat me this way it's going to cause problems for a lot more people than just the two of us. So it's over. Don't ask me to do things with you and just stop lying to me before I really do hate you."

The placid expression on Starbuck's face didn't change throughout her tirade. "If that's what you want," he shrugged and walked away without another word.

"It's always that simple for you isn't it?" Athena said as she stood in the corridor watching him walk away from her.

 

<><><><><><><><><>
I know how much you miss him celebrate what you had.
don't cry about the things left unsaid,
it'll do no good.
<><><><><><><><><>
Chapter 1 - Moving On
<><><><><><><><><>

Galactica Officers Club

Bridge officer Lieutenant Athena stood stock still amidst the animated crowd gathered in the lone battlestar's Officer's Club celebrating their long overdue successful offensive against the hated Cylons. Two battlestars had been taken out and the human traitor Baltar had assisted in their destruction! It was the proverbial shot in the arm that the Fleet needed, especially the warriors who had spent way too long running from battle. Athena was the daughter of the ship's commander, sister of one of the hero who infiltrated the Cylon basestar, descended from a long line of Colonial warriors and was herself a warrior, she understood just what this victory meant and her elation as the baseships exploded and her brother and his wingmate returned from the stealth mission was probably more powerful than most others in the Fleet. Just a few centars later, however, the elation had mellowed leaving a vacuum in its place, an empty space into which a sudden flame of clarity had flared, a clarity of a realization that left her literally breathless.

Anyone who cared to look closely at this moment might see the ambrosa in the cup she was holding sloshing around the glass, but only Athena knew that the motion was not caused by the jostling crowd around her but by the physical reaction she was having to her unexpected and unwanted knowledge. Anyone who looked closely would also see her concentration focused on a spot a few meters in front of her with a concentration that made the bright blues almost blaze in the relatively dim room. If they followed her gaze they would see the beautiful blonde Med Tech, Cassiopeia, standing within the enthusiastic and tender embrace of one infamous Lieutenant Starbuck.

If they looked as long and as hard as Athena was they too would observe that, despite the crowd milling around them, the pair was lost in a world all their own as they gazed into each other's eyes. This observer might also deduce the cause of Athena's agitation, if they knew the history or just heard the rumors, was Cassi and Starbuck.

"Oh Lord," Athena's pained whisper was lost in the noise of the crowd.

"How, how after all this time can this bother me?" she asked herself silently.

With that pained thought Athena broke her seemingly endless study, which was actually had only been a centon long, and quickly made her way through the crowd. Leaving her cup on a table she passed along the way she left the warm liveliness of the social club and into the eerily silent and empty corridor.

Once she realized she was free, she turned her steady strides towards the one place she knew she could actually be alone on the crowded battlestar.

A few short centons later found her making her obviously experienced way into the deserted Launch Bay Delta. The crews, who themselves were now celebrating the successful offensive against the baseships, had already moved the vipers of the Blue Squadron into position in front of the launch tubes.

To Athena's stricken mind the majestic sight seemed almost like a sad memorial to all that her society had lost. And more immediately, to all that she had lost.

Hoping, for more than the larger picture reasons, that there would be no more red alerts that cycle Athena moved through the semi-dark bay. With the love nurtured over a lifetime she ran her hands down the sleek sides of the war machines lined up for battle. Moving from one ship to another she traced her fingers over the names painted on the sides of ships. As she did memories of each pilot flashed through her mind as if the ship itself was communicating the essence of the man or woman with which it became one as it went into battle.

Once upon a time Athena had wanted, more than anything or anyone, to be one of those pilots who communed with her ship and blasted off into space to defend home. Then one fateful, horrible day, not too long into her military career that she learned first hand that spirit and good piloting skills were not enough and on that day she lost her mother, her brother, her lover and the rest of her world. From that day on her own passion had begun to wane until she had to admit that the desire to be a viper pilot had all but disappeared. She didn't know whether it was listening to her brother's painful death or the realization that there were other worthwhile tasks to be done in making and saving a civilization. Or perhaps it was bearing witness to that event that led to the realization? She wasn't certain what came first, all she knew was the innocent and, she had to admit, immature girl she had once been had disappeared as well.

With a weary sigh Athena mentally and physically moved away from her sapient musings and towards the more base musing that had brought her fleeing from the celebration. With an obviously practiced step she made her way halfway down a launch tube and sat down amongst the shadows and steam pipes, she couldn't help but notice with a bitter irony.

Looking around the cylindrical, shadowed space she could almost understand her fellow warrior's preoccupation with the launch tubes as a place for forbidden, romantic rendezvous. As a bridge officer, and a woman, she knew that Starbuck's aborted attempt had inspired many others on the battlestar to make similar use of the oft-idle space. But it was still almost, with a capital "A." While she appreciated the place to be alone with her thoughts, she was still repelled by the idea of experiencing something so special and private in such a location.

"But Starbuck finds it titillating, that's why he prefers Cassi over me," Athena said into the empty space, wincing when her voice echoed down the tube. She dropped her chin down to her chest and let out a long exhale. Though sectars had passed since she and Starbuck had terminated the romantic aspects of their relationship, Athena had finally realized that she hadn't gotten over him, she had only pretended. But she was not able, at this centon, to fool even herself and the hope that he would "come to his senses" and return to her arms was seeping out of her battered heart.

While she felt silly, Athena didn't place the entire fault for her obviously useless hope. Starbuck had never sustained a long-term, monogamous relationship and while his relationship with the Med Tech was almost a yahren old now, it had only recently become monogamous. His longest relationships, in fact, were actually the friendship and kinships with her family and their mutual friends. So in fact, his longest, most stable relationship with a woman had been and continued to be with herself. But clearly the romantic aspect had passed and she had to learn to accept that.

"It doesn't matter why anymore!" she said aloud to reinforce the statement.

The lengthy bond they had shared that had been developing into a mutual, loving and passionate romance had been violently cut short by the destruction and the despair that followed.

Cassiopeia had stepped into that breach. Maybe it was coincidental timing? Maybe it was that she really was more suited for the man he was and had become?

It, Athena realized, didn't matter. She couldn't spend the rest of her life trying to figure it out. She needed to find her own path. She needed to move on.

But just as she found no erotic pleasure in rendezvous in dark, dirty launch tubes made of cold metals heated by steam, neither could she separate her deep abiding love for Starbuck from her familial affection and friendship for him. It just wasn't in her nature. She had to completely separate herself from him and then build up an acceptable level of feelings for him from scratch. Seeing him everyday, having him attend every family celebration and every casual gathering of their mutual friends day in and day out would make that impossible. Had, in fact, made that impossible. She couldn't very well ask him to give up his family and friends for her, he was a man without a genetic family of his own. Her family and their friends were his family. Without that daily bond, she knew, he would be bereft. She was, therefore, the one who would have to physically and emotionally remove herself from the scene in order to heal.

But this wasn't the Colonies. She couldn't take a holiday and visit another planet, take a temporary assignment to another ship or simply busy herself in her own life. They were stuck together for the foreseeable future on this suddenly too small metal community. Recently, they had even begun to repair their damaged friendship and had been known to meet each other away from everyone else for some java and conversation, a swim in the natatorium or a game or two of Pyramid in the Rejuvenation Center. She thought, mistakenly, that they were merely resuming the friendship that had preceded their romantic involvement. Now she could see she cherished the time a little too much.

"He probably had no idea how much I looked forward to seeing him all by myself, how much I treasured the closeness we shared during those fleeting centars. I didn't," Athena ran a hand over her tense brow, her moist eyes were shimmering in the reflected light of the stars.

Knowing what she had to do made her feel marginally better. Now she needed to figure out how to do it. What could she devote an inordinate amount of time to without it being obvious she was avoiding spending time with Starbuck? As much as she hated having to be away from her family, in a way it was almost a relief to contemplate some time away from people who knew her so well and would be able to tell she was licking her wounds. So what could she do?

As fulfilling as she found her bridge duties, she didn't think it would be a believable alibi and might even be counter-productive to her effectiveness. Besides, she and Starbuck sometimes chatted on a private channel while he was out on patrols and Apollo was on sleep period. Teaching only took up so much time. It had to be something away from the Galactica.

Suddenly Athena's furrowed brown smoothed and a smile lit up her face.

Only a sectar ago an appeal had been made over the Inter-Fleet Broadcasting channel for volunteers to spend time with the children on the Orphan Ship. At the time she had been heavily involved in a special defense communications project, but she had promised that as soon as she had the time she would make a special effort to volunteer. In the turmoil of the past secton it had completely slipped her mind, but it was perfect! Everyone knew how much she liked children and she was a teacher on the Galactica. No one would question why she volunteering!

In her excitement Athena almost forgot the reasons behind her resolve. Almost.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Her smile back in its place Athena hurried back to the celebration. Despite the late centar Athena hadn't had to leave a message for the Orphan Programme Administrator, she had actually spoken to him face to face, well, vid-to-vid.

If she hadn't already felt markedly better, Caphis's, that was his name, friendly brown eyes would have cheered her instantly. Even in the short centars they had spoken Athena could see him having a calming and warm effect on children. Adult women apparently felt the same way, Athena admitted with an inner chuckle.

"Athena!" Dietra called out to her as she made her way through the crowd to the table where her friends were holding court.

"Where in the worlds have you been? Never mind, grab a cup and get over here!" Dietra demanded.

"Yes, Ma'am," Athena smiled and dutifully picked up a fresh cup of grog and made her way to Dietra's side. Sitting with her pretty, brown-skinned friend were their other friends including Rigel, Omega, Apollo, Sheba and Boomer. Starbuck and Cassiopeia were also there.

"You look like you've just won the lottery," Brie observed of the unusually bright smile on her friend's face. "Don't tell me you managed to meet a guy in this crowd."

"Of course she did," Omega said.

"So give us the scoop, or is he nearby?" Rigel continued the teasing.

"She can't say in front of her brother," Greenbean slung his arm over her shoulder. "Besides, it would break my heart."

"I would never break your heart Greenie," Athena dead panned.

"Good," Greenbean squeezed her up next to him and grinned.

"Stop manhandling my sister Greenbean," Apollo mock-ordered his warrior.

"Don't be so bossy Brother," Athena stuck her tongue out at her brother before laughing and taking a sip of her drink.

"You tell him, Woman," Greenbean encouraged her.

Through the teasing, Athena was careful to keep her gaze away from Starbuck and Cassiopeia, but her excitement slipped a notch as it began to sink in how hard it was going to be to avoid these dear, dear people. Careful not to let her thoughts show on her face, she let the conversation flow around her. She was concentrating so hard, however, on keeping her smile up she missed it when Boomer spoke to her.

"I'm sorry, what did you say Boomer?" she turned to the warrior.

"She must have met a guy, she's day dreaming," Brie observed.

"I asked if you were going to join us on the Rising Star this time next sectar for a little fun, assuming we don't meet up with anymore Cylons," Boomer repeated the question.

"Actually, I can't. I have other plans," Athena flushed as she realized it would sound as she was confirming her friend's suspicions. By not denying it she felt like a liar. What was worse, she really would have liked to go with her friends to the Rising Star for some fun, but she was also sure Starbuck and Cassiopeia would also be there and she wouldn't be over this in a sectar.

'I guess it was fortuitous I made other plans already,' she told herself in ironic resignation.

"A date?" Brie asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Well, it's not with me, I'm hurt," Greenbean gave her a mock sad look and removed his arm from her shoulder.

"No, not a date. I just made another commitment," Athena admitted, but still didn't disclose her plans. Athena caught her brother's speculative look and looked away. "So what big plans do you guys have on the Star?" she changed the subject.

"The usual, gaming, food and shows," Sheba answered, a look matching Apollo's on her face.

Athena grinned at the pair they made, but her jaw dropped when she saw Sheba slip a hand over Apollo's and stopped him from pressing his sister for a reason she wasn't joining them. Athena looked at Sheba questioningly, hoping that what she had just witnessed was evidence of a new intimacy between the two hard-headed warriors.

Sheba nodded and excused herself and led Athena away from their friends.

"Looks like you've succeeded with my brother," Athena asked hopefully.

Sheba's answering smile provided all the answer that was necessary. "Progress has been made, although success is not assured," Sheba's answer reflected her tactical way of thinking.

Athena smiled at the turn of phrase and with the certainty that things were finally going to work out for her brother and her friend. With the amount of attraction and empathy the two had shared since the micron they met Athena didn't see how it couldn't.

"So what are your other plans? I won't tell Apollo if you don't want me to," Sheba was reaffirming her loyalty to her friend despite her new intimate relationship with Athena's brother.

"Thanks, it's not a big secret or anything. I just don't want to talk about it widely yet. I'm going to the Orphan Ship to see what I can do to help out, I don't want to make plans until I set up a schedule there," Athena confided.

"Really? That's a great idea, you love kids and they love you. So what motivated this, not that it's not a worthy activity?" " Sheba still seemed surprised by the idea despite her initial words.

"I'd really rather not discuss my reasons here," Athena said as quietly as she could and still be heard in the noisy room.

"Oh," Sheba said with a wealth of understanding in her words and her eyes.

Athena flushed slightly and looked away.

"Hey, it's all right," Sheba put her hand on Athena's arm.

Athena shook her head, rejecting sympathy. That was the last thing she needed. "It's an important thing to do, these kids have no one. I have no one. So why can't we be someone to each other," Athena said with a slight shrug.

"That's a start," Sheba pulled her hand away. "Do you want to come back to the party?"

Athena took a deep breath. If she left now it would only stimulate more questions and she did want to celebrate the momentous victory and the safe return of her loved ones. "Yeah, let's party!" she simulated a dance at her friend.

"Come on," Sheba laughed at Athena's antics and put her arm around her shoulders as they headed back to the table.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"What's up with your sister?" Starbuck leaned back against Cassiopeia's arm.

"I have no idea?" Apollo was watching Sheba and Athena talking. "Maybe she does have a hot date and doesn't want us to spoil it by embarrassing her?

"If she does and it's someone on this ship we'll hear about before the night is over," Cassiopeia reminded them that secrets were hard to keep on the military ship.

"That's true," Starbuck snorted. "Well, I hope she does have a hot date."

"You do?" Cassiopeia murmured in his ear.

"Yes, I do," Starbuck put his arm around her shoulders and planted a kiss on her cheek. "I'm a generous guy, everyone should have someone."

"Just someone?" Cassiopeia asked him, still whispering in his ear.

"Someone special," Starbuck clarified with a smoldering leer.

"Okay, you guys are making me slightly ill," Boomer shook his head, a smile touching his lips. "Anyone for a refill?" he asked the rest of the table. After a few confirmations, Boomer headed for the liquibar to order another round.

"Everything okay?" Apollo asked Sheba as she resumed her seat.

"Everything's fine," Sheba assured him before changing the subject. "Where did Boomer go?"

"We were making him ill and he needed another drink," Starbuck said around the fumarello between his lips.

"If you light that in this crowd I'm assigning you deep space probe," Apollo warned his wingmate.

"I'm already assigned deep space probe, that's no threat," Starbuck reminded him. "Think of something better."

"Bet I could," Cassiopeia said smugly, looking at her boyfriend with a threat in her eyes.

"Okay, that works," Starbuck pulled the weed rod out of his mouth and slipped it back into the inside pocket of his jacket.

Everyone laughed at his quick compliance. The infamous Starbuck was, well, whipped.

"Take my seat Athena," Boomer returned and put his load down on the table.

"You sure?" Athena asked.

"Please, I sit for a living," he pointed out.

"So do I!" Athena reminded him. "I think a seat is probably the last thing I need."

"So we're at a stand off over a seat," Boomer chuckled. "Well, I'm still not sitting down," he crossed his arms.

"Well, I'm not either so I guess it is a stand off," Athena smirked at the other warrior. "So why don't we offer the seat to someone else and go play a game of scurry?"

"That sounds like an amiable solution. Bet I can beat your pants off!" Boomer grabbed a cup of grog off the table and waved Athena towards the game corner of the Club.

"In your dreams," Athena scoffed at him.

"Who told you that?" Boomer asked her as if he was affronted at having his privacy invaded and embarrassed at what had been discovered.

Athena laughed and headed for the game.

"That would be an interesting couple," Brie commented as they walked away.

"Would you stop being such a matchmaker?" Omega shook his head at Brie's characteristic preoccupation with romance.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"So what are those hot plans?" Boomer asked Athena after he finished beating her at a game of scurry.

"Nothing so 'hot'," she insisted. "I just have something I want to do." At Boomer's look she sighed. "I'm going to the Orphan Ship tomorrow to see about volunteering to spend time with the children. Any free time I'll probably be spending there for a while."

"What's so secret about that?" he asked.

"It's not a secret, I just don't feel like explaining to everyone why I've decided to do this. Besides, we haven't figured out what I am going to be doing yet. The kids might not even like me,"

Athena shrugged as she pulled the scurries from the target.

"The kids will love you. I think it's a great thing to do, but I didn't think you had all that much spare time as it is between teaching and bridge duty. And taking care of Boxey," Boomer took his scurries from her outstretched hand.

"They need people to help out," Athena evaded his real question.

"So we'll be seeing less of you I guess," Boomer said casually as he aimed his scurry before releasing it at the target.

"Probably," Athena took her turn and was pleased to see she had come closer to the center.

"Lucky shot," Boomer told her as he took his place. "Avoiding anything or anyone in particular?" Boomer hit the center of the target. Literally and figuratively.

Athena didn't answer as she took her turn and also hit the center of the target board. "What's with all the questions? Can't a girl do a good deed?"

"Of course she can and _she_ usually does. I'm just being a concerned friend," Boomer moved close to her side. "You still love him," he said quietly into her ear.

"Am I really that obvious?" Athena sighed.

"No, I just know you well," Boomer held her arm. "It can't be easy to have them at your family table every secton."

"Lords, you remind me of Zac so much sometimes it's scary. I know everyone thinks he was like Starbuck, but he was much more sensitive and kind," Athena rested her head against Boomer's shoulder for a few microns as she thought of her brother. "He also read my mind," Athena lifted her head and grinned at her friend. "So beat that shot!" she pointed at the board.

"No problem, I am a precision shooter," Boomer cleared his throat and took aim as Athena backed away. "So are you meeting with Caphis?"

"You know Caphis?" Athena took her place at the line.

"We grew up together. We weren't great pals or anything, I was a bit wilder than he was, but we lived close to each other and went to school together. Our parents were friends," Boomer explained. "I've spoken to him about volunteering myself, though I have to admit I haven't made the time. I'll have to come along with you sometime."

"Wish I hadn't missed the wild Boomer yahrens," Athena chuckled. "When you told me you used to hot wire hovermobiles, I probably would have passed out if I had the time."

"All part of the Boomer mystery that drives women wild," Boomer winked.

"Definitely like Zac," Athena took her shot and made it close to the center.

Boomer chuckled as he prepared for his last turn of the game. The score was tied and this was the make or break shot for him. He eyed the target carefully and threw.

"I win!" Athena crowed as Boomer's scurry fell into the second ring of the board.

"I was distracted," Boomer grumbled good-naturedly.

"Uh huh," Athena took a sip of her drink. "Another game?"

"Let's leave this at a tie for now and do something else," Boomer shook his head.

"Good, I think one more of these and I won't have any aim left," Athena motioned with her almost empty cup.

"Give me a break Athena, you probably haven't even had a full one yet. Let's get you a refill, unless you're becoming a lightweight," he tilted his head questioningly.

"Nice throw," she remarked, referring to his throwing out of the challenge. "Bring it on boy!"

"You're way too easy Athena," Boomer shook his head as they headed to the bar.

"Again, in your dreams," Athena laughed.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Please tell me she's not going to date all my friends. You don't think her plans are with Boomer do you?" Apollo grumbled as he caught sight of Boomer and Athena ordering nips at the bar. While he usually didn't take stock in Brie's imagination, Boomer and Athena were close. Even closer in some ways than she had ever been with Starbuck.

"Leave your sister alone. You're dating one of her friends," Sheba looked at their entwined fingers with a shy smile.

"True," Apollo squeezed her hand. "But I bet she doesn't want to beat the crap out of you for dating me."

"No, that's true, she offered me a medal," Sheba chuckled.

"See, I told you he wanted to kill me when I started dating Athena," Starbuck had overheard their conversation. "Sheba and Cass didn't believe me."

"Believe me, I came really close. Zac saved his skin one such time," Apollo tried to glare angrily at his friend, but a smile of reminiscence touched his lips.

"Zac saved someone's skin buddy and it wasn't mine! Athena would have killed you if you so much touched a hair on my precious head," Starbuck said smugly.

"Oh brother," Apollo rolled his eyes.

"So tell us the story," Greenbean prodded.

Always the showman, Starbuck stepped up to the fore and began his story with a rubbing of his hands in relish. "This was before you were on the Blue Beanie and Athena had only been on the G a few sectars. It was right after our, fourth or fifth date, I was in the Blue locker room and some of the warriors were ribbing me about making moves on the Commander's 'hot daughter' and Apollo overheard. He, mistakenly, thought I was bragging about putting the moves on his 'baby sister' and came at me. Zac came around the corner and interrupted his bullish brother's charge. It was kind of cute to see the brothers arguing about their sister's honor," Starbuck smiled wistfully at the memory.

"Which was seriously threatened dating you," Apollo grimaced at the memory.

"Athena is more stubborn than I am persistent," Starbuck chuckled. "And more than capable of defending herself."

"Way more information than I want," Apollo made a face as if he had tasted something sour. "Change the subject before I do dive over this table and throttle you."

"Just not the face, but I am dating a Med Tech so I get great care," Starbuck threw his hands up defensively.

"Any excuse to play Med Tech-Patient," Apollo rolled his eyes.

"A guy can't get a break at this table. I think it's time for me to try and gracefully exit this party. Do I have any, uh, volunteers to join me?" Starbuck queried as he stood up.

Cassi took his proffered hand and stood. "Good night all," she waved at their friends and she and Starbuck made their way out of the Club.

"He's incorrigible," Apollo commented.

"But endearing to some I'm sure," Sheba laughed at Apollo's sour expression. "So it really bothered you when they were dating?"

"I wanted to kill him. You know how he is with women, or was," he amended. "I knew he was going to hurt her, she doesn't play in his league. I knew she'd expect a commitment, well, I thought she would at the time."

"She didn't?" Sheba was surprised to hear that herself.

"She wanted one, but she was pretty understanding about his other activities. She hinted around about commitment, but he never took her seriously. Then one cycle she just washed her hands of him. I suspect that she did ask for something more and he said no," Apollo shrugged.

"Actually," Sheba said slowly, feeling compelled to almost defend Starbuck's honor. She didn't know whether she should reveal what she knew. Athena had never said it was a secret, but might not have seen fit to tell her brother about it. Clearly, Starbuck had never mentioned it to his best friend.

"Actually, what?" Apollo asked.

"I don't know if I should say this since neither Starbuck or Athena have told you," Sheba realized there was no way she could avoid telling him now that she had started. Apollo's look confirmed her suspicion. She leaned closer so she wouldn't be overheard. "Starbuck proposed and she said no," she reluctantly disclosed.

Apollo sat back in his seat, shock clear on his features. "When?" he squeaked out.

"Right after the Destruction," she told him.

Apollo's mind was whirling. He had no idea. He couldn't believe Starbuck hadn't told him. He couldn't believe Athena hadn't mentioned it either. His brow furrowed as his mind tried to work out the implications. "They continued dating for a while after that," he thought out loud. Things didn't add up. If Starbuck proposed and Athena rejected him, why did they stay together at all? Why did Starbuck still pretend to bolt whenever the subject of sealing and commitment come up with Athena in room? Was it all for show? If what Sheba was telling him was true then it had to have been.

"Then he went to the launch tube with Cassi where Athena was sure to find him and then he brought her to every occasion that Athena was sure to be at." he wondered out loud. Had his friend been trying to hurt Athena purposefully and not just asking selfishly as Apollo had believed?

"On the rebound?" Sheba finished Apollo's train of thought. Not having been there herself, she had never examined the sequence of events closely or the feelings behind them before herself. "I wonder...," she started to say, but wasn't sure what she wondered.

"I never knew that. They never told me," Apollo said accusingly. He wondered, and wished he didn't have to, what else had gone on between his best friend and his sister that he didn't know about.

 

 

 

<><><><><><><><><><>
You look for mercy and a meaning somewhere,
but you know that the hurting won't go till you walk through
the fire.
<><><><><><><><><><>
Chapter 2 - Walking
<><><><><><><><><><>
[First Cycle]

Athena debarked from the shuttle into the shuttle bay of the Orphan Ship. She was feeling a bit nervous about this new undertaking, apart from the reasons behind the sudden, almost impetuous, commitment. Athena took a deep breath as she looked around the empty, gray shuttle waiting room where Caphis had promised to meet her and take her on a tour of the ship. In addition to her nervousness she was saddened by the lack of visitors to the children's ship. The quiet was in stark contrast to the noisy, busyness of other ships. It also cemented her decision to do this, regardless of the reasons that had led her there.

"Athena," a male voice interrupted her thoughts and she turned towards it.

'Lords,' she thought as she caught sight of Caphis. His comm image did not do him justice. "Yes, hello Caphis," she held her hand out to shake his in greeting.

Within a split micron she found her hand ignored and herself in the man's satisfying embrace.

"Welcome!" Caphis smiled broadly and Athena found herself smiling back. The man's cheer was infectious. "Not to mention captivating, attractive and gorgeous," Athena felt herself flush as she practically peeled her body from his large frame and looked up into his deep, brown eyes.

"Thank you," Athena said breathlessly, resisting the urge to run her fingers through his thick dark hair. Though it was clipped fairly short she was sure it was as silky as it looked.

"You look nervous. Don't be, they're just children. I understand you're a teacher on the Galactica," Caphis voice sounded even warmer than his eyes looked.

"I am, I'm just worried you won't be able to find anything for me to do," Athena admitted.

"And you have some personal reasons for wanting to do this that you feel guilty about," Caphis said perceptively.

"Do I have a sign on my head?" Athena gave a nervous laugh.

"No," Caphis laughed. "I've seen it a lot. People feel the need to escape their own problems or just want to do a good deed to make up for some guilt. Believe me, you won't give it a second thought after you meet them and of course we'll find something you can do," Caphis assured her. "Even if you just spend time with them and show you care it will be appreciated. You don't have to teach or be a doctor or anything. Actually, it's the largest need we have here. Under the circumstance, the children have a hard time learning that they deserve love and trusting people. Then they'll only feel like outsiders once they leave the orphanage environment. It was bad enough on the Colonies, it's much more important within our insular society. And the losses and dangers they deal with here in the Fleet are magnified as well."

Athena nodded solemnly in understanding.

"Let me show you around. I know you said you had been here before, but there is more to see than the Captain's office and the bridge," Caphis assured her. "Follow me," he instructed.

Athena followed in the tall man's wake.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"A majority of the children here are from the orphanages on the Colonies. Some, however, were orphaned during the Destruction or during our journey. You'll find that those children have had a harder time adjusting and demand the most attention. We've been fortunate to have some mental health professionals working with us, but what they need most is dependable adults to give them attention," Caphis explained as they made their way through the dormitories.

"And that's where I'll come in," Athena said absently as she took in the living conditions. The former storage ship had been transformed into a warm environment, something she was sure this warm man had a big hand in. The large space had been divided by real and improvised walls. They were now touring rooms that housed six to eight children who slept on bunk beds that were covered with bright colored blankets. The formerly gray walls were hung with childish drawings and sections of it were even painted over with pastel colors and designs.

"We make an effort to give each child a space in the room that is all their own, to share or not share as they like and to store their possessions. Children on the top bunk 'own' the walls around them and the children on the bottom have the space between the beds. Then there are the chests, dressers, desks and just about anything else we can get that each child has exclusive use of to store their clothes and toys. The rest is all communal," Caphis explained as they wandered though the presently uninhabited rooms.

As she followed and listened, Athena's mind was also working out what kinds of materials and furniture she could find and donate.

"Are the sleeping quarters in the middle of the ship to protect them from attack?" she asked.

"Yes, that's correct. As much as I would like to give them a view of the outside it wouldn't be very safe. It might also remind them too much of their situation since we never get sunlight of green skies," Caphis confirmed as he led her into the kitchen area.

"I hope the food is better here than on the Galactica," she whispered.

"You'll find our cooks to be much more imaginative than military cooks," Caphis said loudly, complimenting the people who were already busy preparing for the mid-cycle meal. "Everyone, this is

Athena, she's volunteered to spend time with the children."

Athena returned greetings as Caphis continued to point out the various stations.

"You don't happen to cook do you?" he asked her.

"Something edible?" she asked jokingly. "Actually, I can. My mother taught me, but don't tell anyone. I try to avoid Mess Duty at all costs. No one wants Mess Duty on a battlestar," Athena explained.

"Well, it's not so bad here. Are you ready to meet the children? I think you would do well with the younger children for now, unless you have a different preference?" he asked.

"No, not at all. I love young children," she said.

"Well then, let's go," Caphis put his arm around her back and led her into the door to the education area.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"You've been uncharacteristically quiet," Starbuck began to speak over the communications channel between the two vipers. "So either you had a really great night with Sheba and are tired, which I highly doubt of you my overly gentlemanly friend, or there's something on your mind that you're just dying to share with me but don't know how to say. Probably about something I've done."

"No one could accuse you of not being observant when you want to," Apollo said sarcastically.

"Ah, I see choice number two has won, and it's obviously something you're ticked off at me about. I can't think of what I've done lately so why don't you just tell me, I'll apologize and we won't have to endure an entire deep space probe where you refuse to speak to me," Starbuck told his wingmate.

"Why didn't you tell me you proposed to Athena after the Destruction?" Apollo said in a rush.

Even through the helm that covered most of his face it was easy to see that Starbuck was surprised by the turn of conversation. "She just told you that? Why?"

"No, Athena didn't see fit to mention it to me either," Apollo sounded slighted.

"So how in the world did you find out and why do you care now?" Starbuck himself sounded annoyed. "Wait, don't tell me, cushion talk with Sheba. Still, why do you bring it up now?"

Apollo ignored the comment about Sheba, but it took an effort. "Because now is just when I found out about it. It really makes me wonder..." Apollo trailed off meaningfully.

"Makes you wonder what?" Starbuck asked with a sigh, he knew that once Apollo got something in his head he wasn't going to let go of it just because it was pointless.

"Let me see, what's bothering me?" Apollo began what was clearly going to be a long recitation. "I wonder what else you haven't told me. I wonder just what went on between you and my sister? I wonder why you continued to date her after she turned you down. I wonder why you continued to flaunt Cassi in her face. I wonder why you've suddenly begun to hang out with Athena on your down time again. Come on Starbuck, what the frak am I supposed to think? You propose to my sister, she says no so you take Cassiopeia into a launch tube where Athena, a bridge officer with whom you've made a date, is sure to find you. Then you continue to pursue her and to bring Cassiopeia to every intimate family event or social gathering. At the time I thought you were just being your usual noncommittal self, but now I find out you proposed and I have to wonder if your actions weren't a bit more premeditated. If you intentionally used Cassi to hurt Athena because she turned you down. "

"I can't believe you'd even think I would purposefully hurt your sister that way! Not to mention Cassi!" Starbuck said furiously.

"Okay, you're right, maybe not purposefully, but maybe unconsciously?" Apollo said apologetically.

"Cut the felgercarb Apollo. If I think I need psychoanalysis I'll go down to a therapy room and have a friendly chat with one of the computer voices and get a nice nap on their velvety couches," Starbuck snapped.

"You seem to know a lot about those rooms," Apollo pointed out with amusement in his voice.

"Inspections. Anyway," Starbuck said quickly, " all of this stuff happened ages ago. Athena and I have moved on and I'm with Cass now, it doesn't matter anymore," Starbuck inhaled and then let out a calming breath. The relaxation techniques Cass taught him, however, were not working, the subject had him too keyed up. He almost wished for a Cylon raider to shoot down.

"Have you really moved on? Has she? She's my sister and you're my best friend and neither of you could bring yourself to talk to me about this!" Apollo practically shouted.

"Look, I know I moved on and I don't think your sister had all that far to go! I proposed, she turned me down. She didn't want to wait around until I got killed in the line of duty like Zac had. So I didn't make her wait around. So we casually enjoyed each other's company until we didn't enjoy it anymore. No big conspiracy. We had a good time together, we weren't getting sealed and we both were fine with that," Starbuck said.

"Were you really fine with that? You don't propose to every woman you go out with. It doesn't add up Starbuck," Apollo disagreed.

"Aren't you overdue for a sleep period or something?" Starbuck muttered loud enough for Apollo to hear. When his friend didn't respond Starbuck correctly surmised that he was waiting for an answer. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, okay, I promise to tell you everything from now on."

Starbuck's flippancy hit home. He wasn't sure exactly why this bit of news was bothering him so much. He did know that it made him feel slighted, but even more than that it made him feel like he had been blind to something important. Something that he now surmised had been painful for two people he cared about a great deal. In his way he couldn't help but question his understanding of Starbuck and Athena's relationship.

Apollo had been relieved when Athena and Starbuck broke it off and he had been even happier to see his best friend finally engaging in an adult relationship. Now, he wasn't sure how he should feel, but Starbuck was right it had been a long time ago now. Beside, badgering Starbuck wasn't going to get him anywhere. He might be more successful worming information out of his little sister?

"If you ever need to talk about anything, Bucko..." Apollo said sincerely.

"Yeah, I know Apollo. Not everything is as colony shattering as you seem to think," Starbuck sounded relieved and more than willing to forget the entire subject.

"Anything interesting on your scans?" Apollo changed the subject.

"Just some more planets and moons. Nothing looks habitable in this system yet. I wonder if Boomer and Jolly have found anything?" Starbuck slipped back into professional mode easily and let the conversation of the past few centons drift away.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Athena sat on the large floor mat surrounded by a group of young children ranging from four to eight yahrens old. As many as could fit were cuddled up against her side and two were even sitting on her crossed legs, propped up by her arms as she read them a story.

"So what happened next 'thena?" a little boy named Noah, who was sitting on her lap, asked.

"Well, the brother and sister pushed the evil man into the cooking fire and ran out of the cabin. Suddenly the suns appeared and they found their way to a path out of the woods. When they emerged, they found themselves at the edge of their village. Overjoyed, they ran through the town until they reached their mother's store. Outside the window they cleaned away some dirt and peeked inside. Everything looked different."

"Confused, they backed up and looked at the sign. It still read 'Tatiana's Tomes' so they decided to go inside. Once inside they found that everything had been kept clean and straightened. There was no one behind the counter so they made their way cautiously to the back room."

Athena paused to look at the mesmerized faces peering up at her. She absently ruffled the hair of a little boy who had attached himself to her when she entered the room a few centars ago and hadn't left her side, even during the mid-cycle meal. She smiled to herself as she looked back down at the small screen she held in her hands.

"Once in the back room they found that all the mess and the dirt was gone. The windows were open and the sunshine and wind were blowing through the room. 'Are you sure this is the right place?' Rylo asked his sister. 'It must be,' Treza was just as scared as her brother. Suddenly someone entered the room. The siblings grabbed each other's hands, afraid it was their mother's evil husband. 'My babies!' the figure cried out and rushed over to her children. 'Where is he mama?' Treza asked their mother. 'He's gone, he's gone!' she told them. Overjoyed, the children hugged their mother. Now they knew they were home."

"The end," Athena announced. She had been worried about reading the story to the orphans, but their teacher had assured her that the children loved the story and weren't upset by its ending. Looking at them, Athena was pleased to see that they seemed to love the story for it's own merit and weren't overly troubled by the differences between themselves and the main characters. So unlike adults who tended to overanalyze every situation and miss enjoying themselves.

"That's how it will be when your dad leads us to Earth," Noah, her little shadow, looked up at her with big blue eyes that were a darker shade than her own.

"You know who my dad is?" she asked, surprised.

"Adama is your dad and Apollo is your brother," Finbar, another little boy in the circle, announced. "We've seen you on the IFB."

"Oh," Athena's mouth pursed reflexively at the mention of her appearances on Inter-Fleet Broadcasting. Not being a high profile person in her own right, her appearances were usually during Zara's rumor shows.

"We thought you were very nice," Noah told her.

"And you tell stories good. Are you going to come visit us again?" Rianna, a six yahren old girl, asked.

"Would you like it if I came to visit sometimes?" she asked. A chorus of approval responded to her question. "Then I would like very much to come visit. Would it be okay if I brought some of the children I teach on the Galactica to meet you?" This idea too met with approval.

"I see from your nanny's signal that it's time for you to put away your books and toys," she told them, sad that it was already time for her to leave, but she had been advised not to spend too much time because it would not always be possible for her so stay long. No one wanted the children to raise their expectations and be disappointed, especially since people often lost interest after their first few visits. Athena knew she could never lose interest, but thought the policy a wise one.

She turned off the reader and began to help the children around her stand up. Noah, however, insisted on staying by her side and helping her pick up the stray items the other children had left behind. The child was engaging and intelligent and she intended to ask his nanny or Caphis more about the child before she left.

"Thank you," she bent down and took the toys he was handing her. "You're very helpful."

"Thank you," he smiled at her. "I like helping you."

She could tell already that he would be heartbreaker when he was older. He appeared to be only around five-yahrens old, but he already had the endearing smile and flattery down pat. She ruffled his light colored hair and he ran off to join his class.

"He's taken with you," Caphis said from behind her.

"I had a wonderful time," she told him sincerely.

"So you plan to come back?" he asked, not seeming surprised.

"Oh yes, I would love to maybe set up a schedule, as much as a I can with my rotating duties on the bridge. These children are wonderful," she told him firmly.

"Not all of them are wonderful. Some of them have real problems adjusting. I don't want you to have a misconception about life here," he told her. "They do seem to have taken to you, especially the little ones."

"I love children," she smiled. "I understand what you're warning me about. It's no different than the adults really, except they understand even less their own feelings and what has happened."

"Sometimes they understand better than us. Are you willing to deal with angry children? There are sometimes even some violent outbursts, though they are rare," he asked.

"I think I can handle it," she said.

"I think you can too," he nodded, seeming satisfied with her responses. "Come to my office and let's see what we can work out."

"Great," Athena put the toys away and waving to the children followed him out to talk more privately and set up a schedule.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Adama was sitting at his desk sorting through the information that was coming back from the deep space probes and the long-range scans of the battlestar when the chime to his door rang.

"Come in," Adama turned away from his monitor. "Athena, what brings you here at this time of day?" he rose from his seat to embrace his daughter. "Athena?" he pulled back to look at her face. "What's wrong?"

"Oh Father," Athena buried herself in his embrace, tears running down her face.

Adama led her over to a couch and sat down, keeping his arms around her sobbing body. "Tell me what's wrong. Is this about your trip to the Orphan Ship?"

Suddenly Athena found herself laughing through her tears and she pulled away. "Amazing. Is there anything that goes on that you don't know about Commander?"

"Very little," Adama brushed tears off her cheek with his thumb. "Tell me what has upset you."

"Those children, Father. They've lost everything. All of it. Their families and their belongings. They live practically isolated on this ship. So few people have the time to visit them or play with them. They have it so hard and I'm so selfish," she sniffled.

"How are you selfish?" Adama asked gently.

"I live on this battlestar with my family and friends. I do things that I love to do. And I worry about who I'm going to date or get sealed with. It's so petty in the face of the needs those children have. Bona fide needs," Athena took the cloth her father handed her and cleaned herself up.

"That doesn't make you selfish," Adama stroked her hair. "You're a very loving and giving woman. You do so much for us. You help take care of Boxey as if he was your own child, for one thing. And you went there to volunteer your time for those children."

Athena stood up and walked over to the viewport and crossed her arms in front of herself defensively. "It was completely selfish," she admitted softly.

"Why did you go?" Adama asked gently.

"I still love Starbuck," she admitted, tears beginning to slide down her cheek. "I need not to be around him so much. I thought that volunteering at the Orphan Ship would keep me away from here so I could avoid him. And it gives me a good excuse to avoid family stuff because they're always there," she confessed, her head dropped in shame. She hadn't planned to tell, but decided that she couldn't stand to deceive her father.

"I didn't realize including Starbuck and Cassiopeia at our gatherings was so hard on you. I'm sorry," Adama walked over to stand behind his daughter and put his hands on her arms.

"No, he's family and she's his girlfriend. While it really made me angry for a while that he brought her and flaunted her in my face, it's well past that now. They're a couple and they both have every right to be there. It's just so hard," she whispered. "I need not to be around them for a while and that's not possible if we're all stuck on this ship cycle after cycle."

Adama placed a kiss on her down-turned head. "So will you still go to the Orphan Ship?" he asked her.

"Oh yes," Athena spun around. "I went there for my own reasons, but now I really want to. The children are wonderful and they need so much love. I have plenty to spare and they make me feel needed. That's something I haven't felt in a long, long time. In fact, I don't know if I ever have. I want to help them."

"I know bridge duty isn't always exciting, but it's very worthwhile. As is teaching the warriors' children," Adama smiled at his daughter.

"I know it is, but spending time with these children I can see the difference I'm making, or hope to make. I'm going to try really hard to grow up," she took a deep breath. "I've been so self-centered. It took just a short time with those kids to see that in myself."

"Well, seeing others who are worse off than you can do that," Adama said sagely.

"You won't tell anyone why I decided to do this?" she asked. "I don't want anyone to be uncomfortable, and well, it is embarrassing to admit I haven't gotten over him yet. It's been sectars since we stopped seeing each other."

"You're a very loyal and stubborn woman, Athena. A lot like your mother and myself," Adama chuckled. "I would never betray your confidence."

"I know. Father, I love you," she hugged him.

"I love you too. And you do what you need to do, just don't forget to visit me now and again and that I'm here if you need to talk. Or even just a hug," he told her.

"Or a shot to the head," she chuckled. "I'm due on the bridge soon, I need to get cleaned up. See you soon, Sir," she left him alone.

Adama's smiled disappeared as soon as she was out of sight. He had suspected, but hadn't been certain until now whether she still felt this strongly about Starbuck. He hated seeing his children endure pain, especially when there was nothing he could do about it, which seemed the case most of the time. He made his way back to his desk and buried himself in his work once more. Relying on his faith that time would heal all their wounds.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Athena was walking around the main communications console to speak with Colonel Tigh on the command bridge Bridge. Before she reached the stairs, however, the warriors from the deep probe mission arrived to make their reports. Athena turned away and headed for the console where she planned to busy herself until the Colonel was free again and Starbuck left. Fortunately, the download of their log data was complete and she could sort through it and compare it to their oral reports with Tigh later.

No matter how she tried to concentrate on her task, Athena couldn't help but hear their murmurs. Especially Starbuck's, which she always seemed to be able to pick out no matter how many people were speaking. She hadn't even managed to go one day without running into him. She felt a frisson down her back as she realized just how insurmountable the task she had set for herself was.

A few centons later she felt a hand on her shoulder.

"Apollo," she gasped, having been startled by his touch. "Welcome back. It looks like you got some good data here."

"I want to talk to you when you get off duty, meet me in my quarters," he said abruptly before turning on his heels and walking out of the bridge.

Athena blinked once in shock and then looked back at her screen. "What is that about?" she wondered, missing the glance Starbuck shot between Apollo and her before he too left the bridge.

"Lieutenant?" Colonel Tigh's voice interrupted her wondering.

"Yes, Sir, be right there," she stood and grabbed her hand-held and hurried to the command bridge.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"What was that all about?" Starbuck caught up with his wingmate.

"I said I wouldn't ask you about this, that didn't mean I wasn't going to speak of it to my sister," Apollo said shortly.

"I can't believe you're still upset about this. I thought this was settled centars ago," Starbuck said stiffly. Looking at Apollo's stubborn face Starbuck suddenly felt angry. His hands clenched into fists at his sides as if he was preparing for a battle. He wasn't sure why he was so furious and, frankly, he didn't even care.

"Listen," Apollo stopped walking suddenly and faced Starbuck. "This is between my sister and I. You refuse to discuss it or examine what it all means, but I need to know how she feels and why she felt she couldn't share this with me!"

"So this is about you now?" Starbuck snarled.

"That's not what I'm saying!" Apollo's anger quickly rose to meet his wingmate's.

"Maybe you should Apollo, because I think it has everything to do with you! She probably didn't tell you for the same reason I didn't! Because she knew how you would react! Because we had both agreed not to flaunt our connection in your face after you made it clear you weren't a big fan of the relationship in the first place. Since we're delving into ancient history here I'll tell you other things you don't know. You're the reason our relationship didn't last! Your palpable disapproval made it very hard for us to be together. We didn't feel comfortable displaying our affection for each other around you. We didn't feel comfortable sharing with you, as a best friend or a brother, what we were feeling or doing. That didn't leave us much on a ship this small," Starbuck paused for an overdue gulp of oxygen before continuing.

"All we ever heard was how much of a womanizer I was and how naive Athena was. What a supportive friend you were! All I ever heard from you was about Aurora or the other women I had dated or was dating. You knew very well that things with Aurora were not working out because I was away so much and for so long and because I love your sister!" Starbuck's face turned brighter red as his tirade continued and his pent-up feelings were finally set free. "And do you have any idea what your disapproval did to your sister? To us? No, how could you, you were too busy judging to look and see what we had."

Apollo opened his mouth to speak, but Starbuck held up his hand to forestall him.

"You wanted to know, remember," Starbuck hissed. "So let me finish! You claimed to be my best friend Apollo and you are, but it really hurt to hear you denigrating me like you did. It hurt me and it hurt your sister to know that she was coming between us. I like my excitement as much as the next guy, but it wasn't fun, even for me, to have to practically sneak around to be together," Starbuck shook his head at the memories. "While I might not have minded so much, your sister did. It made her feel...feel...dirty. Being with me made her feel dirty!" Starbuck said in a ragged voice. "Do you know, do you have any idea what that does to an intimate relationship? By the time she decided she could get past it, it was too damn late for us! I thought, hoped, that maybe in the midst of the Destruction we could find the will to be together regardless of how you felt, but it was too late!"

"Are you happy now that you opened all this up again?" Starbuck took a deep breath before asking, his eyes still full of fire.

"You said you love her, not loved," Apollo said tightly and strode away.

Starbuck slumped against the corridor wall and closed his eyes. When he opened them he noticed a few of the bridge personnel eyeing him with great interest. "Wonderful," he cursed under his breath and headed for the squadron barracks.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Athena, are you all right?" Tigh asked her as they sat at the table in the briefing room reviewing the data from the probe and the long-range scans.

"Yes," she shook her head, a smile on her lips. "I just have a lot on my mind that doesn't have to do with vectors and radioactivity. Sorry."

"No, no, you're doing fine, you just seem a bit down," he said. "This is your father's old friend asking, not your superior officer."

Athena flushed and looked down at the table. While Tigh was a dear and old friend of the family, she really didn't want to share with him her feelings about Starbuck. "I went to the Orphan Ship today, it's just got me thinking."

"I heard," Tigh nodded. "It's an eye-opening experience isn't it?"

"You and my father, you seem to know everything that goes on around here," she chuckled briefly before sobering up. "It is. I know what happened to all of us, but seeing those children makes it all the more real. I can remember being young and dreaming about growing up, going to the Academy and being a viper pilot. Perhaps that wasn't the healthiest dream and I might not have had it if we hadn't been at war, but at least I had options. What do these children have to look forward to? There's this one little boy who is so distrustful, but he came right to me..." she broke off with a sigh.

"That's why we need to do our jobs the best we can so we can find Earth and give them those options," Tigh said confidently.

"Do you really believe there is an Earth?" Athena asked quietly.

"I have faith in your father," Tigh said simply.

"That's quite a burden for one man," Athena observed.

"Yes, it is, but Adama is up to the challenge. One way or another, we will find Earth, whether it be the home of the thirteenth tribe or just someplace safe for us to settle. He will lead us there," Tigh's faith was unwavering.

"You're a loyal friend," Athena smiled tenderly at the older man.

Tigh smiled at her briefly before turning back to the data in front of them. "Speaking of doing our jobs to the best of our ability, it looks like this planet has tylium and edible plants. It doesn't appear to be widely settled and, depending on their technology, we might be able to get what we need without disturbing the population."

"If the Cylons haven't already destroyed them, they were already here. Do you think that this might be a part of the Cylon Empire? It seems we're far away from their home world, but they had already taken Gamoray and they were here waiting..." Athena speculated.

"It's very likely," Tigh said in a resigned tone. "I've put the squadrons on alert in case this is a Cylon outpost, but we haven't heard any communications coming from the planet. It's hard to say until we get closer and send an advance team down."

Athena nodded her agreement with his assessment. The only question now was who to assign to the ground team. According to the rumors that filtered onto the bridge, Starbuck and Apollo had just had a major blowout in the corridor, a fact which made Athena uneasy since she was apparently next on Apollo's hit list. Regardless, they had just returned from deep probe and were scheduled for more of such patrols over the next two days. Since all squadrons were on alert, it really was a matter of determining who would best serve where. And it didn't necessarily need to be viper warriors on the team.

"Why don't we send some of the non-squadron warriors down?" Athena suggested. "They are trained and aren't needed to man the vipers should the Cylons show up again."

"Like you?" Tigh smiled at her.

"Actually, I wasn't suggesting any of the bridge officers either," Athena blushed, knowing that her superior's suspicion was well-grounded. She had been pushing to get a planet side assignment for sectars. This time, however, she felt she would serve better in her post if the Cylons showed up. "I was thinking of some of the reserve squadron members, gunnery and others. We do have some former intelligence operatives in gunnery and in the communications lab on the Science Ship. I know they still train and would love to see some action."

"You have a good point. We've hesitated to use anyone but viper pilots since we set out from the Colonies for any missions that included other populations because there wasn't time to prepare teams that hadn't worked together before and to avoid Council oversight. But I think that's been remedied by now. We have a few days before we'll be close enough to send even a shuttle down. I'll contact Primus on the Science Ship and gunnery and see whom they can recommend and to get them ready. Your father can take care of the Council's objections to using "civilian" operatives they claim are under their authority. We should send a couple of warriors down who are still sharp on these kinds of missions. Good idea Athena, we have been thinking in a rut. Perhaps Bojay and Sheba?" Tigh planned eagerly.

"We should send two teams down to two locations. Two warriors on each team. You can assign the teams as you see fit, work with the Flight Commander's schedule. Good job. Finish cross-referencing this data, I'll send Jorge and Tomas in to help you and Omega prepare briefing reports for tactical planning," Tigh rose and walked out of the room.

Athena dropped her head into her arms on the table. She had no plans to assign Starbuck and Apollo to the mission. The wingmates had been on every single mission since they had left the Colonies and for the sake of morale and keeping everyone's skills honed it was time to give some other warriors a chance to earn some medals. Apollo would be furious and would try and change his and Starbuck's schedules to accommodate the mission and she had the authority from Tigh to override his wishes. Mess Duty was not only beginning to look attractive, it was beginning to seem very likely that the Captain was going to find some way to get her assigned there soon.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Athena waited as her compilations were uploading into the tactical computer and rubbed the back of her neck.

"When is the tactical meeting scheduled for?" she turned and asked Omega who was sitting at the command bridge console.

"Tomorrow, eight centars," he told her.

"Guess I'm not teaching tomorrow," she said with a yawn. While she was still waiting, she sent a message to Breal at the battlestar school that she wouldn't be able to do her science class in the morning cycle and it was a dim prospect that she would be able to make it anytime during mid-cycle. Luckily, she prepared her lesson plans in advance and Breal could merge their classes on the rare occasion that bridge duty interfered.

"Why don't you get some sleep?" Omega suggested.

"Might I say the same thing to you?" Athena turned her head to look at her fellow officer.

"You could, would and should," he said wearily.

"This is finally done," Athena closed the connection and pulled her hand-held into her lap. "We're done here for now. Why don't you walk me out? Maybe we can get a bite before bed?"

"Is that a proposition?" Omega said to her in a teasing undertone.

"Ha, ha," she rolled her eyes. "Liam is here to relieve you if you could tear yourself out of the 'all-powerful-seat'."

"Don't you have an appointment with your brother now?" he asked.

"Don't remind me. Well, I am getting something to eat first, no scratch that. He can have a few centons and, if it isn't really important, I'm going to leave and join you," she grumbled.

"And if it is important?" Omega escorted her down the steps.

"Then he can order me something to eat," she smiled.

"Good plan. I for one am getting something to eat and then I'm getting some shuteye. Of course, I'll probably dream about the meeting," he complained good-naturedly.

"I know that feeling," she shook her head as they left the quiet bridge. The quiet was something Athena treasured about working during the late cycle. No one was quite sure why it was markedly quieter than the earlier cycles when there were just as many people on duty and on patrol. She figured it had to do with the biorhythms and personalities of the people on late cycle. And maybe something to do with the fact that Tigh often presided over the shift and was a relaxing presence, whereas her father motivated people to work more frantically? Well, it wasn't anything she was going to solve tonight, unless she needed to think of something else while her brother was blathering on.

"See you soon," Omega waved as she headed towards the family quarters and her meeting with her brother.

If there was any luck on her side he would be asleep already. Or over whatever he was upset about.

"Yeah right," she snorted.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"You wanted to see me?" Athena sat down across from her brother in the darkened room. "You don't look so good," Athena leaned forward in her chair to study her brother's haggard face. "What's wrong?"

"That's what I want you to tell me, Athena," he said quietly.

Athena stood up and made her way to her brother's side and sat down. "I don't know what you are talking about. You seemed pretty angry on the bridge earlier and I heard that you had a blow out with Starbuck in the corridor right after. I've rarely seen you two argue," she placed her hand over her brother's.

"Only when you two were dating, right?" he said in a bitter tone.

Athena pulled her hand away and her brow furrowed as she tried to work out where this conversation was going.

"Starbuck and I did argue. Actually, it wasn't an argument," Apollo shook his head. "Starbuck, at my provocation, said some things to me. Things I didn't like hearing."

"Why did you provoke him?" Athena asked. She looked away from her brother. "I was told that my name was mentioned."

"It was about you and me and Starbuck," Apollo sighed and slumped down against the back of the couch. He rubbed a hand over his forehead, as if he had a headache.

"I...what is...," Athena sighed. She wasn't sure she really wanted to know. In light of everything else on her mind, she was certain this would only be an added problem. She wasn't even dating Starbuck and she was causing problems between them. "How am I a problem between you two now?" she asked.

"You're not the problem Athena. I was," Apollo started to explain. "I found out something last night cycle, something that hit me really hard. I'm not even sure why, but it did. That something was something to do with you and Starbuck. I broached the subject with Starbuck and he told me to leave it alone."

"Which he knows is impossible for you," Athena sighed. "So what could you have possibly found out that's causing all this trouble?"

"That he proposed to you. And that you turned him down," Apollo finally told her.

"And?" she prompted.

"That's it," Apollo shrugged.

"So how is this a problem?" Athena was honestly not bringing the statement towards any logical conclusion that explained the situation.

"That's pretty much what Starbuck said," Apollo observed.

"Why does this bother..." Athena trailed off and jumped up from her seat and walked over to the viewport. "It still bothers you so much that he and I were together," she said tightly. "Does this disappoint you or disgust you?"

"Would you please just listen? It's not what you think at all, it never was," Apollo pleaded. When Athena only nodded he continued. "I need for you to listen and to look at me when I tell you this, please. I don't like myself very much right now and I owe you an explanation if not an apology."

Athena turned and seated herself again in the chair across from him.

"I told you that Starbuck told me some things today. Wait, let me start at the beginning of all this. Last night Sheba told me that Starbuck had proposed to you and that you had refused him. She said that it happened right after the Destruction. It was the first time I had heard that and I was hurt that neither of you saw fit to mention it to me. We'll address that later," Apollo forestalled Athena's defense.

"I just want to say that Sheba never meant to betray your confidence, but she thought I should know. After I got past my hurt, the news led my mind down a course that, perhaps, it has no business going, but it did. So I asked Starbuck about it. He didn't want to discuss it with me. Which, of course, led me back to my pique at my best friend and my sister keeping secrets from me. I certainly didn't understand why neither of you told me and I felt betrayed. That's how i was feeling and that's how I was feeling when I commanded that you come see me after duty," Apollo paused.

"So how did that lead to you and Starbuck arguing?" Athena prevaricated.

"He said that if I wanted to dig up ancient history then he would give me some and he let loose," Apollo chuckled for a moment at his own folly. "He told me how hard my disapproval, albeit relatively silent, was on your relationship. And you in particular."

"Oh," Athena looked down at the hands clasped in her lap.

"Don't you have a few choice words for me too?" he asked ironically.

"Not really. There's no point," she told him.

"Why is there no point? What about an apology? Starbuck opened my eyes to how unfair I was to him and to you. I was so afraid he would hurt you as I've seen him do to various women over the yahrens. First he would sweep them off their feet until they fell for him and then he would lose interest and they always ended up broken hearted. I saw it over and over again and I wanted to do anything I could to stop him from doing that to you. I didn't stop to think how much that attitude might have hurt him. He's my best friend, I should know that he would never do that to my sister. And I should have, as you put it, butt out of your life," Apollo said.

"It was a tough position. I'm sure you never worried about the other women or interfered with them, but I'm your sister and you are an honorable man, Apollo. I understand your concern. And, ultimately, you were right," Athena pointed out.

"Not necessarily," Apollo sighed. "If I hadn't put so much pressure on both of you to end it and for you to not trust him who's to say it wouldn't have worked out. At least that's the impression Starbuck gave me today. And he did propose."

"Yeah, when he thought every other prospect was killed by the Cylons. And, for the record, I didn't reject him out of hand. I was devastated. Mother and Zac and our entire world had just been destroyed before our eyes. He wanted us to pull together and comfort each other. I asked him for time. He refused to give it to me and I lashed out at him in despair and anger. By the next night cycle he was in the launch tube with some woman he had just picked up while on missions of mercy! Believe me, he didn't miss a beat when I granted him a reprieve from his own impulsiveness," she said scoffed.

"Starbuck never tried to pull people closer in a time of crisis before," Apollo said quietly.

"He had never had his entire world destroyed either," Athena shot back. "He's seems to do it pretty well with Cassi now."

"So why didn't you two stop dating after that?" Apollo asked.

"Because I was a fool and he wanted a good time. He recovered quick enough," Athena shrugged, fighting back tears. This conversation was tearing her apart. "Why are we arguing about this now? Starbuck is right. This is ancient history. What was and what will never be doesn't matter. He's with Cassi now and he loves her and he'll probably get sealed to her. He and I would never have worked out no matter what anyone did or didn't do for one basic reason - he didn't love me Apollo."

Apollo bit back the words that were hovering on his lips. Despite her attempt to seem unaffected, he could tell that the conversation had upset his sister more than she was willing to admit and he didn't want to hurt her more. It wouldn't serve any purpose. She was right about two things. Maybes didn't matter and telling her what Starbuck had let slip would only make it more painful for Athena. Someday she might like to know, although if what Starbuck had let slip was true, was still true then...

"I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry, for everything," he said in a calmer tone.

"And I want you to know that I don't blame you for anything, even if Starbuck told you otherwise. My...my reaction to your disapproval was my problem, not yours. I was immature to let your disapproval effect how I interacted with him. Again, not your fault. I'm really trying to learn from my mistakes," Athena hastily wiped a tear that had escaped her control from her cheek.

"Now can we put this behind us?" she kneeled on the floor before her brother and placed her hands on his shoulders.

"Yes," Apollo sighed gratefully and pulled her into a hug. "I love you, Sis," he whispered into her hair.

"I love you too, Bro," Athena rubbed his back, trying to give him some comfort. "I think maybe you won't go to sleep until you work things out with Starbuck."

"I was just thinking the same thing," Starbuck's voice suddenly broke into the sibling's private moment.

Athena stiffened in Apollo's arms.

"We didn't hear you come in," Apollo released his sister, giving her arms a brief squeeze before helping her rise.

"I rang, but there was no answer..." he shrugged. "I came to apologize to Apollo and since you're here, I'll might as well apologize now for tomorrow's rumors. I was overhead letting loose on your brother. I don't know if they heard exactly what I said, but your name is known to be involved," Starbuck told her.

"Sure, thanks Starbuck. Well, I just got off duty and I need food and sleep. I'll leave you two to kiss and make up. Good night," she gave her brother a kiss on his cheek and, with a vague wave at Starbuck, she slipped out of the room.

Apollo turned the lights up and waved Starbuck into a seat.

"Guess she wasn't thrilled by my apology, I thought they were rare enough she would appreciate it. How about you?" Starbuck said as he sat down.

"I owe you an apology," Apollo said.

"No, you don't. Your sister was right. Our reactions to your feelings were within our control. You can't be blamed for them," Starbuck shook his head, not wanting Apollo's apology.

"I shouldn't have doubted you," Apollo persisted.

"I should have told you to shut up," Starbuck told him. "You had every reason to worry about how I treated women. And she is your sister, you had every right to worry about her. I probably would have been mad if you weren't! You did trust me to protect her from all the other warriors."

"You heard quite a bit of our conversation didn't you?" Apollo realized.

"Yeah," Starbuck admitted.

"You know she believes you never loved her," Apollo said quietly.

"And she said it doesn't matter now," Starbuck reminded him.

"Doesn't it? Will you really get sealed to Cassi when you're still in love with Athena?" Apollo looked his friend in the eye.

"I don't, I mean yes, I mean I'm not still in love with her. I said I was in love with her, I meant I was in love with her. Not that I am. I do love her, as a friend or sister, not as a woman. Not that she isn't a woman, she is, I just don't love her as one. Well, of course I wouldn't I'm a man, so I wouldn't love her like a woman. Sexually, I don't...oh never mind!" Starbuck gave up.

"Whatever you say," Apollo said diplomatically.

"You look terrible, why don't you get some sleep," Starbuck suggested in a falsely sweet tone.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Athena's appetite had fled the moment her brother had started their conversation. All she wanted to do now was sleep. The past couple of days seemed to be the most emotionally turbulent she could remember in a while and she was completely drained. She also had to admit that since declaring her intentions to avoid Starbuck she seemed to be running into him more than ever.

If this was a sign of things to come, she was going to need all the sleep she could get.

 

 

 

<><><><><><><><><><>
It's gonna take an act of faith to stand up and face the day.
It's gonna take an act of faith,
nobody can make you stay
<><><><><><><><><><>
Chapter 3 - Fire
<><><><><><><><><><>

Starbuck and Apollo sat next to each other in the Briefing Room, similar sullen looks on their faces. Both were incredulous and angry that they weren't assigned to the ground teams. It was the first mission that either or both of them had not been assigned to since fleeing the Colonies. Neither warrior was quite sure how to handle it so, basically, they were pouting.

Athena chose just that moment to walk into the room, her arms loaded down with handhelds and data chips. When she noticed her brother and his friend she quickly averted her gaze. Her one confrontation with Apollo when she had to review the patrol schedule with him and have him implement the team assignments had been enough for her. So while they pouted, she ignored them and began sorting through her materials. She also briefly considered shooting them if they didn't stop pouting.

Athena's thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the intelligence operatives based on the Science Ship.

"'thena!" Laren called out her name in his usual jovial manner.

Athena turned, a smile on her face, and allowed herself to be enveloped in the large man's embrace.

"I definitely have not seen enough of you," he said loudly as he let her go.

"Stop talking dirty, her brother's in the room," Jared ribbed his friend and gave Athena a hug himself. "Ignore him, he's just miffed that I get to lead our team."

"Aren't we like a breath of fresh air?" Nate said laconically as he too swept Athena up into his arms.

"You have no idea," Athena laughed, glad to see her friends and be around people who were not only not pouting but were in high spirits. The past few days, except for a quick visit to the Orphan Ship, had been pretty dismal as she had managed to isolate herself from most of her friends and family. Fortunately, finally making the list of successful avoidees was Starbuck whom, until now, she hadn't seen since their brief encounter in her brother's quarters three days ago.

"Lex sends his regards," Nate told her with a raised eyebrow. Lex, the head of the Communications Lab and Athena had gone on a few dates a few sectars ago, but the relationship had ended without a word of explanation from either party. Athena apparently intended to keep it that way, Nate saw, as she shrugged and mumbled something about sending her regards back. With a dismissive shrug, Nate dropped the subject.

"So how did we get pulled for this gig? I thought for sure they had forgotten us," Jared asked as he grabbed a hand-held and took a seat.

"Yeah, things have gotten a bit warrior-centric around here," Laren observed. "No offense Captain, Lieutenant," he looked over at Apollo and Starbuck.

"No one forgot you," Athena tried to smooth things out before one of the warrior's infamous tempers exploded. "In fact, my Father's been trying to convince the Council to get you guys into service for sectars. They finally agreed for this mission." The intelligence agencies of the Colonies had been under civilian control and the Council had refused to allow the military to have any authority over them, even in the Fleet and Adama had been reluctant to press his prerogative under Martial Law unless it was imperative he do so. It was only reluctantly that they had conceded their usage on this mission, though technically they didn't have any right to object. Everything was just overly complicated by the Council.

"They probably got sick of handing out medals to the warriors," Laren comments.

Athena couldn't argue with his observation as a few Council members had said much the same thing themselves. She was sure they were planning to take credit if this mission was a success, despite the fact that the Council never had anything to do with intelligence either before or since the Destruction.

"So when do we start this shindig?" Starbuck interrupted.

"As soon as everyone gets here, I imagine," Athena said sweetly, not looking over at him. "No one told you to show up half a centar early to pout," she responded even more snidely to him in her head. Glancing over at the warriors for a few microns, Athena wasn't so sure she didn't like it better when the two were still at odds with each other because now they appeared united in their attempt to practically sing and dance their dissatisfaction with being left off the teams. She hoped Sheba would knock some sense into her brother before she left, otherwise she was sure the two warriors would glower on the bridge for the entire mission.

Idly, her hand slipped down and checked that her weapon was in place. It was a satisfying vision to imagine turning around and stunning the doofs with her lazer in the middle of the bridge.

"Thinking of shooting someone?" Omega leaned over and whispered into her ear as he placed his own materials on the table.

"Considering it," she motioned her head towards the still-sullen warriors.

"Hi Captain, Starbuck," Omega greeted the warriors with a jaunty wave.

"This is Laren, Nate and Jared, from Intelligence," Athena introduced the team members.

Omega shook hands with the other men as Athena let her gaze stray towards her brother and his wingmate. The two warriors were talking amongst themselves so Athena let herself indulge in a study of Starbuck's profile. No matter how annoyed she was she couldn't deny his attractiveness. It wasn't just his physical appearance either, but some indefinable inner quality that had always drawn her to him.

"Me and a thousand other women," she tried to dismiss the undercurrent she felt fill the room whenever he was in it, but it didn't stop the image of the first time she had met him.

== Her first sight of him had been him standing next to her brother at the door to their home. She was an eleven yahren old kid and she had just come rushing through the house to greet her big brother who was home from the Academy with a friend. She had come to a running halt when she saw the friend.

It had been a clear summer day and Starbuck had been backlit in sunshine, his hair was almost indistinguishable from the sunbeams and it was hard to tell whether the glow surrounded him or came from inside him. Her adolescent heart had started pounding and her breath had caught in her throat as he had turned away from their mother and looked at her. He smiled at her and had said hello, or something, she really had no idea because she was beyond hearing until Zac had stepped on her foot and snapped her out of her stupidity-daze. Toes throbbing she had walked over to the cadet and stuck her hand out and introduced herself.

"Hi, my name is Athena," she almost melted as he clasped her hand.

"A beautiful name for a beautiful girl," Starbuck had said as he let go of her hand.

She thought she was going to die and go to heaven right there and then. Until Apollo ruined it.

"But we call her Brat, we find it much more fitting," Apollo had ruffled her hair and headed for the kitchen and their mother's cookies.

Her face had flushed in embarrassment and anger, she remembered, and Starbuck had smiled at her sympathetically before following in her brother's wake.

All of her friends had fallen for Starbuck during that school break and he had taken their bumbling flirting in stride. Athena, however, had been too mortified by her brothers' teasing to say more than two words to their guest for the next few days, though her gaze never strayed far from him when he was around.

On Apollo and Starbuck's last evening home, Athena had walked over to the lake to find some solitude, a precious commodity in a house full of brothers. Once there she had stripped down to her bathing costume and stood, enjoying the feel of the breeze on her bare skin as she watched the moon on the ripples of water. Feeling a peace slip over her, she climbed the "diving tree" and balanced herself on the wide branch that hung over the water. As she had every warm season her entire life, Athena raised her hands over her head and propelled herself into the water.

She swam underneath the surface until her lungs felt like they were going to burst. Taking deep breaths of air she let herself float for a few centons before swimming back to shore. She wasn't supposed to swim alone, but she needed the exertion tonight. The days of pent up emotions were beginning to drive her mad and she hadn't wanted to spoil her brother's last night home by giving him the fat lip he so richly deserved.

Since starting his first year at the Academy, he had begun to treat his sister with a supercilious disdain. It had hurt at first, but she had learned to ignore it. It was intolerable, however, when he did it in front of Starbuck. Yet, she couldn't say anything about it for fear of looking like an even bigger child in front of her brother's handsome friend. She was almost twelve yahrens old for Kobol's sake and he treated her like she was still nine or something!

The swim had helped her clear her head and she sat down on the shore to dry off before heading home and catching flak from her mother for swimming alone. Her wet hair gave her away every time.

"Hi," an unmistakable voice said from behind her.

Athena's shoulder stiffened as she waited for her brother's tone to chime in. After a few microns, she hadn't heard him so she turned around. "Oh hi Starbuck," she said, her eyes scanning behind the young man.

"He's not here. Can I sit?" Starbuck politely asked.

"Yes," Athena let out an audible sigh of relief.

Starbuck sat down next to her and looked out over the water towards the setting moon. "Do you know why he teases you so much?" he suddenly asked.

"Because he's a daggit's behind?" Athena said sweetly.

Starbuck laughed for a moment at her jibe. "No," he shook his head, still chuckling. "He teases you because he's trying to grow up and is afraid if he hangs out with his eleven yahren old sister he'll look like a kid."

"I'm almost twelve," Athena mumbled.

"You two have always been close?" Starbuck asked quietly.

"Until he went to the Academy. Now he's just a jerk and I don't think it's very mature," Athena said with hurt in her voice.

"He'll come around. He does love you very much, and he's proud of you. He's always bragging about his smart and talented brother and sister at school. He says that you have better aim than him," Starbuck tried to comfort her.

"I do," Athena confirmed proudly. "And when I got to the Academy I'm going to beat his scores."

"I bet you will," Starbuck smiled. "So you want to go to the Academy too?"

"Of course," Athena picked up a stone and began to fidget with it.

"Why?" he asked her.

"Because I want to defend our worlds from the Cylons. Because I want to speed through space and engage in battle," she said in a determined voice laced with excitement.

"It's not all fun and games," Starbuck warned. A warning Athena now knew he was just repeating, but hadn't believed himself.

"I know that," Athena looked at him. "My father has given me that lecture a million times. Doesn't stop him from missing it though. I hear you're a pretty good shot too," she changed the subject.

"It's only first yahren. We'll see at graduation," Starbuck shrugged with uncharacteristic modesty.

"We will," Athena nodded. "But great warriors are usually obvious by the middle of first year."

"Your dad told you that too?" Starbuck bit back a chuckle.

"Laugh all you want, but he would know," Athena said.

"Yes, he would. I'm not laughing at you Athena, I'm sorry. It's just disconcerting to hear Academy wisdom coming from an eleven, almost twelve yahren old," he quickly amended.

Athena dropped the stone and pulled her hair over her shoulder and began to twist the water out of it. "I'm a good commander's daughter," she said in a toneless voice.

"Yeah, well, we'll see about that at graduation too, won't we," Starbuck said under his breath.

"What does that mean?" Athena looked over at him.

"Nothing, nothing," Starbuck waved his hand. "Let me walk you back to the house."

"I don't need to be walked back," Athena jumped up and gathered her clothes.

"Well, I do. I got here by accident and don't know how to get back," Starbuck stood up.

"Well, I'll let you walk me back if you pretend that you were here while I was swimming. I'm not supposed to swim alone," she said slyly.

"We got a deal. So much for the good commander's daughter," Starbuck shook her hand.

"I may only be eleven, but I do have two brothers," Athena said as she pulled her clothes back on.

"You have a great family Athena," Starbuck said almost to himself.

"So do you," Athena looked at him in the moonlight.

"My family?" Starbuck's brow furrowed at her words and even in the semi-darkness she could see a haunted look in his eyes.

"Don't you know? You're a part of our family now," Athena grabbed his hand and began to lead him down the path. "Nothing you can do about it now. So you have a great family too." She glanced over and saw Starbuck smiling widely as he watched where he was walking in the dark. = =

Athena glanced around and noticed that the other teams members were beginning to arrive and she shook off her unwelcome recollection. She hadn't thought about those sectons in ages, probably not since she had been almost twelve in fact. Now she could see just how precious Starbuck must have found her "adoption" of him into their family. A lonely orphan boy being handed a crazy but loving family by an eleven-yahren-old kid.

Athena shook her head and smiled to herself despite the unhealthiness of her musings. She and this man had a long and varied history together. Her love for him had grown from a seed planted that evening by the lake as he tried to reassure the little girl that she still had her older brother's love. How in the world was she supposed to transmute a love that had grown for over fourteen yahrens into a tepid acquaintance?

Athena had no answer and she had more important things to worry about just then anyway.

Adama called everyone to order and began laying out their plans. There were a few excited murmurs that Colonel Tigh quelled with a glance as their Commander spoke.

"Lieutenant Athena and Captain Omega will explain the tactical details to you, but first Captain Apollo and Lieutenant Starbuck will give you a first hand account of the flight path to the planet and their scans and anything they think might be useful for you to keep in mind," Adama finished up.

Starbuck and Apollo made their presentation brief, yet thorough. Athena was relieved to see that they hadn't let a hint of their personal dissatisfaction show through. While neither warrior could be accused of ever shirking their responsibilities, they both, although Apollo liked to deny it about himself, sometimes had problems keeping their personal feelings out of their work. Athena wondered whether it was stubbornness, the presence of non-warriors or Sheba's warning looks that had kept them in line this cycle.

Apollo and Starbuck exited the room with the Commander as the bridge officers began their briefing.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"We've picked up additional intelligence about the inhabitants of the planet. As we had hoped, they appear to only inhabit the warmer climes and they appear to have strong enough defenses to ward off the Cylons should they be following behind us. It's those defenses that made them undetectable until we got closer and we believe they foiled the Cylons as well. We are certain that these inhabitants are not human and we don't know if they are friendly or hostile to us, but we aren't going to waste time finding out," Athena pressed a button and displayed a digitized map of the planet's topography.

"The tylium we need is located in the colder areas of the northern hemisphere. The Galactica will block the planetary tracking systems and the mining ship will immediately move in and begin gathering. At the same time Team One will proceed to a drop off point closer to the settled areas to scout out any edible plants we might make use of. Team One will have some scientists from the agro ships and med doctors to quickly choose which edibles to collect for food and medicine."

"The Team Two will be the team searching for and taking pictures of the possible markers and recording whatever planetary communications they might pick up for later analysis. We have also been concentrating our scans trying to pick up any minerals indigenous to Kobol that might be another marker from the Thirteenth Tribe. We believe that we have found something along those lines. The Two will be checking that out."

"As you can tell, this is not expected to be a dangerous mission, although that is always a possibility. We do have to be smooth and fast. We would like the teams to be on the ground no more than three centars with another centar for the shuttle teams. We know that's rather tight and there is give either way, preferably less time for the ground teams and more for the collection teams. You will help them if they let you and return with them in the shuttles," Athena explained. "We do, however, warn everyone to stay on alert for any trouble. The Fleet will continue on while you are down there and you will catch up with it on the other side."

"There are detailed schedules, maps and information on those handhelds for you to study before you leave in a centar and a half. If you have any questions during that time, Captain Omega, Colonel Tigh and I will be on the bridge. Captain Apollo and Lieutenant Starbuck and the other deep probe warriors have also agreed to make themselves available should you have any questions for them. Are there any questions in the meantime?" Athena summed up.

"Who will be flying the shuttles?" Sheba was quick to ask.

"Lieutenants Dietra and Filon will fly the drop off shuttle and the One's pick up shuttle. Flight Sergeant Jolly and I will fly Second Team's shuttle. The drop off shuttle will return to the Galactica and a different shuttle will be waiting for them for the pick up one," Athena answered.

It had been Tigh's last centon decision for her to fly one of the shuttles and based on the fact that she had intimate knowledge of mission parameters and experience flying shuttles during battle as she had over Carillon.

"Are there any further questions?" Omega asked the assembled teams.

There were no takers and Tigh dismissed everyone with advisement that they should study their materials and rest up.

"Good briefing," Tigh complimented his officers after the room emptied out.

"We learned from the master," Omega nodded in acknowledgment.

"Thank you, Sir," Athena said and turned to gather her materials together.

"I'll see you on the bridge," Tigh walked out.

"I think I've only seen that shine in your eyes when you get to fly a viper," Omega observed.

"I'm growing as a person? Widening my interests?" Athena suggested.

"That or you realized we have cushier seats on the Bridge?" Omega shrugged.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Before returning to the Bridge Athena headed for the shuttle launch bay to perform the pre-flight checks. While she and Jolly would perform them again before take off, she thought it wise to do it now too just in case they had to make a quick departure.

Athena entered the shuttle, picked up the check list and began performing diagnostics. She was still sitting in the pilot's chair checking the communications sets ten centars later when someone entered the shuttle behind her. She turned around and came face to face with Starbuck who stood at the entrance to the shuttle. Agitated, she turned back to her task before speaking.

"Planning to stow away or make certain I saw your pout?" she asked in what she hoped was a light tone.

"No," Starbuck said and walked onto the shuttle and settled on a box in front of her. He crossed his arms and looked at her silently.

Athena put down her list and looked up at him with raised eyebrows, silently urging him to say what he came to say and leave.

"I came to find out why Apollo and I weren't assigned to the mission. I have a feeling that you had something to do with it," Starbuck finally stated.

"Yes, I did the assignments but it wasn't personal," she said.

"How was it not personal?" he asked.

"Apollo had already scheduled you both to deep probe over the past few days and I thought it might be a good idea to give the non-military personnel a chance at some mission training to begin to take some of the burden off of all of us," Athena explained.

"Oh," Starbuck dropped his arms. He couldn't argue with either point. He didn't make any motion to leave however.

"Is there something else you wanted to discuss?" she asked.

"I just, well, I wondered if you've been avoiding me. We've been, uh, you know, doing things together and you haven't been around. You didn't even show up for dinner at the Commander's last night. I can't think of anything I've done lately, but I was wondering if I had done something I'm supposed to apologize for?" Starbuck had moved further into the shuttle as he spoke and was now kneeling down in front of Athena.

"No, you haven't done anything," Athena kept her eyes lowered.

"Dammit, how can I fix whatever it is I've done if you won't tell me what it is?" Starbuck asked.

"There's nothing to tell," Athena shrugged, fiddling with the handheld in her lap.

"Look at me!" Starbuck lifted her chin and forced her to look at him.

"Get your hands off of me," Athena's eyes blazed in anger at his attempt to bend her to his will and to hide her threatening tears. She yanked her face from his grasp.

"What is your problem? I thought we were friends?" Starbuck's hands were clenched into fists.

"We were never friends Starbuck. I was your best friend's little sister, then I was some girl you hung out with and then I don't know what we were becoming, but we were never really friends," Athena said defiantly.

"How can you say that?" Starbuck asked.

Athena felt guilty when she saw that he was genuinely hurt by her words.

"I'm sorry, I...I've just been really busy," she tried to take back what she had said. When the hurt look didn't go away she grasped his hands and pulled him into her embrace and tried to soothe his hurt the best way she knew how, physical contact. "I didn't mean that, really."

Starbuck's arms slid around Athena's body and he buried his face on the side of hers creating a strange juxtaposition of light and dark as his blond hair entwined amongst her dark.

"Why are you mad at me?" he asked, sounding a lot like a hurt little boy.

"I'm not mad at you Starbuck," Athena felt herself become lost in him.

"Then why?" Starbuck moved so that he could look into her eyes.

Athena's breathing became shallow as she noticed his gaze drop to her lips. She couldn't stop her tongue from darting out and moistening her suddenly dry lips. She could feel his heartbeat speed up when he saw. Their faces were only millimeters apart, one slight move and their lips would touch. Silently, waiting, they stared into each other's eyes.

With an excruciating slowness their lips met.

Gently their lips pressed together and opened. Starbuck's tongue slid inside Athena's mouth and Athena's eyes closed. Her tongue moved forward to caress his. Their lips met and moved and repeated their own caresses. Moans of pleasure filled the shuttle, neither was aware that it was their own.

Starbuck's fingers had been resting gently on Athena's neck and as their kisses got deeper her slid them down to the tips of her breasts and he began to roll her nipple between the pads of his fingers in a rhythm he subconsciously remembered from sectars of practice. As he teased her felt Athena's breast swell as it tried to fit itself into his hand. Accommodatingly, he opened his hand and cupped her breast. He felt her engorged nipple rasp against his palm and felt his own arousal fill.

It felt as if he was at the bottom of a deep pool of water as he gently manipulated Athena until he lay over her, the evidence of his arousal pressing against hers. Their mouths were still engaged in their own manipulation.

Suddenly a clatter from outside the shuttle permeated the passionate haze.

Athena froze for a moment before she frantically pushed Starbuck up and scrambled away from him.

Starbuck remained on his knees, but was looking at the empty ground as he tried to bring himself under control and at the same time politely avert his gaze from Athena to allow her to do the same.

Finally, Starbuck looked up at Athena.

His breath caught in his throat as he looked and saw the tears sliding down her flushed face, past her swollen lips.

"You still love me!" Starbuck said in a strangled voice.

"What?" Athena's eyes widened at the accusation.

"You do! That's why you're avoiding me! I knew there had to be a reason!" Starbuck seemed oddly pleased with his analytical abilities and unconcerned with the implications of his deduction.

"I don't know where you got that idea from. have things to do and I have to finish this and get back to the bridge," she tried to appear unruffled.

"Deny it all you want Athena, but I know the truth," Starbuck said.

"You promised never to bring up that I told you I loved you and you couldn't say the same to me! Don't you dare hold that over my head now to try and get me to assign you to this mission!" she practically hissed.

"That's not what I meant," Starbuck shook his head.

"Whatever, don't forget you kissed me and you never loved me," Athena flipped her hair off her shoulders with a shake of her head.

"Then why are you avoiding me?" Starbuck's face was unreadable.

"If I was so intent on avoiding you, wouldn't I have made sure you were on the mission and not predictably going to be in my hair on the bridge for the next three centars?" she asked.

"Well, um," Starbuck's face became a mask of uncertainty.

"I don't know what is going on with you Starbuck, but I suggest you get a hold of your ego,"

Athena took advantage of his pause.

Starbuck's gaze burned into her as he looked for a clue in her expression.

Athena lifted her chin and refused to be stared down.

After a few centons Starbuck looked away. "I'll see you later," he mumbled and turned and walked away.

As soon as his shadow disappeared, Athena's false defenses collapsed and the hand-held dropped out of her numb fingers. She closed her eyes and dropped her face into her hands. Her entire body was shaking and her heart was racing. More and more, things seemed to racing out of her control. She should have expected the unexpected from Starbuck after all these yahrens. Instead she had assumed he would be busy with Cassi and not notice her pulling away from him as she tried to heal. But Starbuck was a contrary creature by nature, and very observant. Too observant at the wrong times. Still, she hoped that after this confrontation he might leave her alone, but somehow she didn't really believe it.

<><><><><><><><><><>

[Apollo's Quarters]

"So are you still pouting?" Sheba settled down next to Apollo in his quarters.

"No," Apollo grumbled.

"Yes you are," Sheba laughed and pressed herself against his side. His body was stiff with exhaustion and anger and she intended to do something about that before she left.

"Aren't you supposed to be studying your mission profile?" Apollo cleared his throat, feeling her heat against his side.

"I am studying," she said as she seductively ran her eyes up his body until they met his eyes.

"Yeah, well," a flush made its way up Apollo's face in a way that Sheba found completely endearing.

"So how about you forget the fact that you aren't going planetside and help me prepare?" she suggested, toying with a clasp on his jacket.

Apollo's hand clamped down over hers, drawing her eyes to his. Sheba gasped as she saw the desire in his eyes, something he had kept carefully masked when he looked at her before now.

She was mesmerized by his gaze as he dragged her hand around his neck. His other hand slipped unnoticed around her neck until it cupped the back of her head.

"How shall I help you prepare?" he growled.

"We could discuss your plans for the squadrons if there is trouble," she suggested breathlessly.

"Or," Apollo said slowly as his face lowered until his lips were a centimeter from hers.

"Or what?" she whispered.

Apollo took advantage of her open mouth and pulled her head to meet his and slipped his tongue inside her mouth. There was no more talking for the next five centons as they ravished each other's mouths. When they finally broke apart they were both breathing heavily.

"I should have kissed you like that before you left for the basestar. That was great motivation," Sheba told him breathlessly.

"Yeah, you should have. Although I probably would have decked you at that point," Apollo laughed.

"Actually, I think you would have fainted," Sheba shook her head, a smile plastered across her face.

"I do not faint!" Apollo raised his chin.

"Sounds like a challenge to me," Sheba brushed her lips against his. "But one for when I get back."

"Be careful out there," Apollo captured her chin between his fingers.

"That's a promise," Sheba said seriously, looking him in the eyes.

Apollo leaned over and gave her a tender kiss.

"Now study that profile," he ordered.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Starbuck strode out of the shuttle bay and didn't stop until he reached a deserted shuttle lounge where he stood for the next few centons trying to get a grip on himself. In truth, however, he didn't want to calm down! He much preferred to be able to kick something. So he did.

A few microns later found Starbuck sitting on a waiting bench rubbing his sore toes. The wall wasn't as soft as it had looked through the red haze of anger, but at least he was much calmer now. He still had no idea, though, what had possessed him to confront Athena like that. It wasn't something he had consciously planned. He had only gone to the shuttle bay in order to give Apollo time alone with Sheba. He had figured since he was being excluded from the mission he could at least eyeball the shuttles and make sure that everything was properly prepared. He could he have known that Athena would be there checking out her shuttle before reporting to the bridge? He was just trying to help, the nice guy that he was.

"So why didn't you wish her luck and then leave when you did see her?" he asked himself. "Instead I stride in there, seduce her and tell her she loves me!" he clapped his hand over his face.

Where in the star systems had he got that from? He didn't know! He had just opened his mouth and out it came, along with a bunch of other unthinking felgercarb. Kicking something was a great idea, if only he could arrange to kick himself as he had the wall.

Or his wingmate. He was much softer and it was all his fault. Apollo was the one who had dredged up all this Starbuck-Athena romantic felgercarb!

It was all Apollo's fault!

Feeling much better Starbuck decided to go in search of something to dull the pain in his foot.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"So I hear you've been spending time on the Orphan Ship?" Omega said casually as she sat at the communications console checking to see everything was within operational parameters.

"Yes," Athena turned around with a smile. "You should come along some time. The children are a blast and could use more visitors."

"Um, maybe. So, you've met a man named Caphis?" Omega questioned in a calm tone as he leaned over her shoulder as if he was observing the computer run through data.

Athena leaned to the side to give him room and studied his look. She sensed a barely controlled emotion from her co-worker.

"Yes, I have," she confirmed, but couldn't stop her curiosity. "Do you know him?"

"Um, who?" Omega mumbled. "Oh, Caphis. Yes, I knew him back on Pisceria."

"Hmmm, he never mentioned knowing you. Were you close?" Athena watched him closely for a reaction.

"No, not really," Omega stood up.

"Oh, too bad. He's a lovely man. We had dinner last time I was there," Athena turned back towards her screen. "If all goes well tonight, I'm planning to go back after I get back. The children want to hear what we discovered and I want to assure them I'm all right. Maybe you'll come along?"

"Maybe," Omega said abruptly and walked away.

"Everyone is acting strange!" Athena thought to herself as she got back to work.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Strange" had turned back to annoying a couple of centars later.

The teams had been dropped off and Athena was concentrating on watching for any communications, from either the teams or the planet's inhabitants, or a surge in energy levels that would cause any alarm. The only increase in anything, however, was in the frustration levels on the bridge.

As she had predicted Starbuck wasn't the least intimidated or embarrassed by their last encounter and was loitering behind her waiting for the mission to play out. Tigh and Adama were tolerating their presence as a balm to their pride, and probably Apollo's undue concern for Sheba, but Athena was really close to kicking them out.

Apollo, for his part, wasn't feeling all that differently from his sister when it came to Starbuck. Impatiently he grabbed Starbuck's arm to stop the fidgety warrior from pacing. "Will you stand still? If the bridge officers don't, I'll shoot you," Apollo warned him.

"Sorry," Starbuck sighed, again, and stood next to Apollo, again.

Luckily almost everyone on the bridge attributed his impatience to being left off the mission, but Starbuck knew that was only part of his restlessness. What was making him crazy was the fact that Apollo had decided they should wait with Athena was she manned communications in case something happened and they had to get going they wouldn't be delayed a micron. Starbuck couldn't very well tell Apollo that he didn't want to be so close to the man's sister because just a few centars before he had been on the verge of making love with her in a shuttle! Neither could he forget the encounter. And as guilty and embarrassed as he was by it, his body seemed to have its own ideas. Starbuck's cheeks flushed as he silently prayed that his physical state wasn't noticeable.

"What the frak is wrong with me lately?" he wondered, a scowl on his faceas he looked down at the woman working in front of him. Until a few days ago they were moving along in their parallel paths of life and enjoying a peaceful interaction. Then all of a sudden she had made herself scarce, Apollo began intimating that Starbuck still had feelings for her and he was losing control of his behavior. Not only was he cheating on Cassi by seducing Athena and standing her wishing he could try it again, but he his temper was undeniably short and he was taking it out on his wingmate, his girlfriend and just about anyone who crossed his path.

He wondered whether he was that immature that he would be so bothered if Athena suddenly stopped being available at his beck and call. He was broken from his reverie when Athena jumped up from her seat and darted around her chair and barreled into him.

"Starbuck, move!" she ordered and bolted past him.

Bewildered, Starbuck looked at Apollo, who had wisely moved aside.

"The signal," Apollo said. "She has to get to the shuttle. The mission? Does any of this sound familiar?" Apollo appeared slightly amused, slightly annoyed.

Without a word Starbuck spun on his heel and followed in Athena's wake. He caught up with her waiting for the turbolift that would take her to the shuttle bay.

"Athena," he gasped and stopped by her side. "Wait."

"For what?' Athena spared him a micron's glance. Then the lift door opened and she bolted in.

"Wait!" Starbuck cried out.

Athena grabbed his jacket and pulled him into the lift with her as the door closed.

"What's so important it can't wait?" Athena began to pull her hair back from her face and secure it to the back of her head.

"I'm sorry," Starbuck blurted out.

"For what?" Athena sighed at him.

"For before, for everything. I wanted you to know before you left," Starbuck realized suddenly how lame he sounded.

"I'm coming back, this is a simple pick up," Athena rolled her eyes.

"That's not what I meant. Forget it, I think I gotta get some more sleep," Starbuck turned away and half-mumbled to himself.

"You do that," Athena told him as she moved past him and exited the lift.

Starbuck leaned back against the turbolift wall as the door closed. "I am going crazy!" he said to no one in particular.

<><><><><><><><><>

Apollo caught up with Starbuck nursing a cup of grog at a back table in the Officer's Club. The Captain slid into a seat across from his wingmate and looked at him expectantly.

"What?" Starbuck snapped after a few centons of Apollo's silent scrutiny.

"That's what I want to know. What is going on with you Starbuck?" Apollo asked kindly. "Ever since our, um, exchange the other day you've been acting strangely. You're going to get yourself killed."

"I know," Starbuck sighed. "Don't ask me to explain it, because I can't."

Apollo looked at the table for a few microns. "I hope that you know you can talk to me about anything."

"I do know that, not only because that's the fourth time you said that this secton," Starbuck said with a hint of humor in his voice.

"Maybe I should become a psych counselor?" Apollo joked.

"I think I need one," Starbuck leaned his chin in his hand.

"The shuttles have launched and everything should be over in another couple of centars," Apollo changed the subject.

"Hmmph," was Starbuck's only response.

"Do you want to come back to the bridge with me?" Apollo asked.

"I think I'd better stay away from the bridge unless I absolutely have to be there," Starbuck observed. "I might just get myself thrown in the brig next time."

Apollo looked at his friend sympathetically. "Is everything all right with you and Cassi?" he suddenly asked.

"Other than me snapping at her lately, things are fine," Starbuck took another drink.

"You look tired. Have you been sleeping?" Apollo was still trying to figure out what was wrong with his friend.

"Not really," Starbuck ran a hand across his eyes. "I am exhausted."

"No one says you have to stay awake for all this. You are supposed to be getting some sleep now," Apollo reminded him.

"So are you," Starbuck pointed out.

"Yeah," Apollo agreed. "But with Sheba out there..."

Starbuck looked at his friend closely. "Are you all right with that?" he asked, knowing that the loss of Serina was probably making him worry more than he would about any other warrior.

"I won't deny that I'm terrified," Apollo chuckled. He understood his fears, but they didn't stop them from making his heart pound.

"Maybe you should have a grog?" Starbuck suggested.

Apollo furrowed his brow for a few microns. "That's probably a good idea," he finally sighed.

"I need another, I'll get you one," Starbuck slipped out of his seat and headed for the bar.

Apollo had also noticed that his sister had been acting strangely, but wasn't about to bring her up with Starbuck. Ever since he had dredged up the aborted proposal, she had been a touchy subject with his wingmate. Or more exactly, ever since Starbuck had said he loved Athena and he hadn't said it in the past tense. Apollo had also observed that Athena's absence from last night's family dinner hadn't escaped Starbuck's notice. Every time her name had been brought up, Starbuck's lips had tightened and he had ignored the conversation, still, his eyes had strayed to her empty seat when he thought no one else was watching him.

For now all Apollo could think about was seeing his sister and his, well he wasn't sure what to call Sheba yet, back safely on the battlestar. His next priority was kissing Sheba senseless. Then he might take time to worry about Starbuck's love life. As he finished his last thought, Starbuck returned and slipped a cup of grog in front of him.

"To a successful mission," Starbuck raised his cup in a toast.

"And the women we love," Apollo couldn't resist one little comment before touching his cup to his friend's.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Two happy and mellow wingmates were waiting in the lounge outside the Decom Chambers two and a half centars later. Team One's shuttle had headed directly to the Agro Ships to unload, while Team Two's shuttle had remained to finish their observations and had landed a few centons ago, along with their viper escorts, Sheba and Bojay.

Apollo glanced at the door impatiently, torn between wanting to greet Athena or Sheba first.

"Just meet up with the first one to come out," Starbuck clapped him on the back.

"Good idea," Apollo mumbled. It wasn't like he hadn't thought of it, he was just eager to verify that both women were safe. Sheba was the first to exit and Apollo practically sprinted towards her.

Sheba's face broke into a wide grin as she was surrounded by Apollo's exuberance. She knew a lot of it was based on worries she couldn't prevent him from engaging in, but the fact that they were about her was touching.

"You're safe," Apollo whispered and pulled her into an embrace.

Sheba kissed him tenderly on the cheek, appreciating his concern yet unbelieving that he was displaying his emotions like this in front of everyone. Against her she felt his pounding heart and hoped that they could find a way to ease his concern, but still retain this wonderful greeting whenever one of them returned.

"I missed you," Apollo looked into her upturned face.

"I missed you too," Sheba smiled at him tenderly.

Apollo's fingers caressed her cheek momentarily before he let her go.

"See you in the O' Club?" he asked, knowing she wanted to get cleaned up.

"Hey, forget about me already?" Athena slipped her arms around her brother's waist.

Apollo turned his head away from Sheba's departing form and looked at his sister. "That would never work, I know, I tried when we were kids," he teased kissing her on the forehead.

"Har har," she rolled her eyes. "How are you doing?"

"Aren't I supposed to ask you that?" he raised his eyebrows.

"Yeah, I'm fine. But I know how hard this must have been for you to worry about Sheba,"

Athena said quietly. "It will get easier," she promised, hoping she was right.

Starbuck, meanwhile, was greeting Jolly and the other shuttle pilots as they came out. His attention, however, never strayed from Athena. He knew that he should welcome her back, to not do so would seem strange, but not even three grogs made him brave enough to risk that.

"She's beautiful isn't she?" Laren, the intelligence officer, leaned over and asked Starbuck.

"Who?" Starbuck looked at him questioningly.

"The woman you've been staring at since she emerged from decom and is now enjoying a touching reunion with her brother," Laren was clearly enjoying himself.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Starbuck said.

"Well, that's probably where you went wrong, but thanks for waiting for us," he clapped the warrior on the back before walking away.

Starbuck glared at the departing operative's back before looking back to see if Athena and Apollo were finished. Finding that Omega had joined them, Starbuck felt it was safe to wander over himself.

"Welcome back Athena," Starbuck said brightly as he stopped next to Apollo.

"Thanks, we have someplace to be," she looked at Omega for confirmation. "See you later," she turned and walked away.

Omega looked at Starbuck for a micron before bidding the warriors goodbye and following.

"Let's get to the O Club and get a table," Apollo suggested, ignoring Athena's snug of their friend.

"I'm going to pick up Cass, so I'll meet you there," Starbuck told him.

<><><><><><><><><><>
[Shuttle Titon]

"So now will you tell me now what the nature of your relationship with Caphis is? He didn't grow up on Pisceria. He grew up with Boomer on Caprica," Athena crossed her legs and looked at the man sitting tensely next to her.

"He knows Boomer? I forgot that," Omega mumbled, a far away look in his eyes.

"Well," Athena was prying unmercifully.

"I'll tell you my secret if you tell me yours," Omega challenged.

"Fine, but I'm not sure what my secret is," Athena agreed. "You go first."

"I met Caphis when he came to Pisceria to set up youth centers and an orphanage," Omega began the story. "I was home from my second yahren in the Academy on Caprica for the warm season. We met at a party given by some mutual friends and we hit it off right away. We were together for the next two yahrens while I finished school and he was traveling the Colonies with his work. It wasn't as bad as it sounds because he traveled so much for work he we got to see a lot more of each other than we might have otherwise. I would meet him places or he would add the Academy into his itinerary when possible. After graduation I was assigned to Ground on Virgon and we moved in together. We were together for another yahren before I was assigned to a communications ship. We tried to keep the relationship going, but, you know how it is."

"And you haven't spoken in all these yahrens?" Athena asked.

"It wasn't an amiable split, though I don't think either of us wanted to end it, but the odds that I would ever get an assignment back in the Colonies were slim," Omega told her. His frustration at the memory was evident by they way he ran his fingers through his dirty blond hair.

"What about after the Destruction?" she asked curiously.

"I looked him up and found out he was still alive. I'm sure he knows I am as well, but neither of us has contacted the other," Omega admitted.

"You would think that we would all try and pull together those of us who are left and put the time and distance that pulled us apart behind us," Athena commented, almost to herself.

"So who haven't you contacted or put the past behind you with?" Omega already knew the answer.

"Is that the secret you want to hear?" Athena asked hopefully.

"Nice try," Omega patted her knee.

"So what 'secret' are you referring to?" Athena shrugged philosophically. She had tried.

"That's what I'm asking you. You've had this glow about you. I'm suspecting a new man. And I know it can't be Caphis, so what gives?" Omega asked.

"No guy. If I'm glowing, it's probably just the lighting on the bridge," she shrugged.

"I told you my secret!" Omega reminded her.

"There is no man. I'll swear to it on the Book of Kobol if you want," Athena insisted.

Omega crossed his arms. "If you won't tell me, I'll just have to find out for myself," he warned.

"When you do, let me in on it," Athena said.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Athena!" Noah broke away from his game and ran to greet the entering warrior.

"Hey, Noah," Athena kneeled down and returned the small boy's hug.

Soon, a chorus of childish greetings were ringing out in the playroom and Athena was introducing her fellow bridge officer. Soon, Omega too was peppered with questions about his job and the adults were sitting cross-legged on the floor answering questions about the bridge and the recent mission. Noah had made himself at home on Athena's lap and she had her arms encircling his little body to keep him balanced.

About ten centons later, Athena saw Omega stiffen and she glanced over at the playroom door. As she had suspected, Caphis was standing there watching them, an unreadable expression on his face. Athena waited to see what would happen next. Omega wouldn't look at the other man and Caphis seemed unwilling to walk further into the room, or to leave. Luckily, the children were oblivious to the tension traveling between the two men and Athena did her best to make sure they didn't by engaging them in a game.

Finally, Omega stood up and excused himself from the circle and walked over to the man hovering in the doorway.

Athena watched as they disappeared and hoped that it would work out for them. There was clearly still a lot of feelings between them.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"It's nice to see you Omega, you're looking well," Caphis said casually as he fell into step with the other man.

"You're looking well yourself. I hear you're doing wonderful work here on the Orphan Ship," Omega said just as casually.

Seeming to run out of things to say, the two men walked silently down the corridor until they reached Caphis' office. Without a word passing between them, they entered to room.

"Have a seat," Caphis motioned towards a chair in front of his desk, taking the matching one for his own. "You knew I would be here when you came?"

"Yes I did," Omega said quietly.

"Athena made a good excuse," Caphis said without judgment. "I was planning on visiting her on the Galactica soon," he admitted.

"We're a couple of cowards, aren't we?" Omega suddenly began to chuckle.

A grin broke out on Caphis' face. "We are," he agreed.

"So how have you been?" Omega asked, his hazel eyes betraying his nervousness.

"I've been good. I hear you're an important officer on the bridge," Caphis revealed that he too had been keeping track of his former lover's whereabouts.

"I do my job," Omega brushed off the compliment.

Caphis smiled tenderly at Omega's characteristic modesty. "I knew you were going to deflect that praise," he said, reaching his hand out and placing it over Omega's.

Omega looked down at their hands for a few microns before turning his hand over and entwining their fingers together and looking up at Caphis.

"I've missed you," Caphis looked at him intently.

"I've missed you too," Omega squeezed Caphis' hand. "Do you think we can make this work after all these yahrens?"

"I have faith in this," Caphis gestured towards their entwined hands. "I've never stopped loving you," Caphis told him.

"I love you too."

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Can anyone play this game?" a deep, male voice interrupted the game.

"Jack!" the children exclaimed, obviously acquainted with the newcomer.

"Sure, sit down," Athena invited. "Actually, we were done with our game and were just talking about school. I'm Athena."

"Jack," he shook Athena's hand and ruffled Noah's hair. "So what lesson in particular are we discussing?"

"Triad," Noah informed him.

"Deep intellectual stuff," Jack murmured so only Athena would overhear. "I guess you all love the game?"

"Yes, they do," Rette, the young children's guardian interrupted. "Now, however, is sleep cycle. Sorry."

"Can Athena and Jack put me, us, to bed?" Noah asked pleadingly.

"After you get cleaned up and changed, they can tuck you all in," Rette allowed.

Rette herded them off to the turbowash, leaving Athena and Jack alone in the playroom.

"Are you a volunteer?" Athena inquired.

"Yes," he nodded. "I'm a legist during the day cycles. And please, no legist jokes? You'd think after the Destruction those would go away," he groaned.

Athena laughed at his easy and infectious manner. "I work on the Galactica," she volunteered.

"I know, gossip hasn't disappeared either," he confirmed. "Noah seems quite taken with you. That's quite an accomplishment."

"I've heard he's shy, but I don't know that I did anything incredible," Athena smiled.

"While many of the children here were orphans before the Destruction, Noah wasn't and he's been withdrawn ever since, not just shy. I can usually only get a hello and a goodbye out of him," Jack said.

"I didn't know that," Athena was surprised.

"I bet it's not just children that warm up to you," Jack said flirtatiously.

"I might say the same to you," she said with open admiration of his dark-eyed good looks. He wasn't as broad or tall as Caphis, but he exuded the same masculine energy. If he wanted to flirt, Athena wasn't going to discourage him.

Before Jack could respond, Rette returned to inform them that the children were almost ready.

"We'll finish this conversation later," he leaned down and whispered in her ear, as his hand settled on her lower back and he guided her towards the children's quarters.

<><><><><><><><><><>

[Officer's Club]

"So where's Athena?" Boomer asked, a cup of grog held firmly in his hand as he stopped before his friends.

"I have no idea," Cassiopeia shrugged underneath Starbuck's arm.

"At the Orphan Ship," Apollo told their friend, his own arm wrapped around Sheba's shoulders.

"The Orphan Ship? Is that where she has been spending her time?" Cassiopeia asked.

"Yes, she's spending time with the children," Sheba told her friend. "You know how she loves children."

Starbuck busied himself finishing his cup of ambrosa to hide his surprise. He didn't even think to ask if Athena had a valid reason to absent herself from their social occasions. "Not that she volunteered an answer," he defended himself.

"Yes, Athena does love children," Cassiopeia agreed. "That's really sweet of her."

"She should be here soon," Apollo informed the group.

"Good, she owes me a tie-breaker game," Boomer told them.

"Scurry again?" Sheba asked, shaking her head. "You two are obsessed with that game."

"She's a challenging opponent, but don't you dare tell her I said that!" Boomer warned. "Of course, Boxey is probably going to be the big champion of us all. That kid has aim."

"He had a great teacher," Apollo preened.

"Yeah, Athena!" Sheba and Boomer said in unison, laughing when Apollo sighed.

"I'm going to get a refill," Starbuck said abruptly and walked away.

"What's wrong with him?" Boomer asked.

"I wish I knew," Cassiopeia said in frustration. "He's been moody for sectons, I thought it was everything that happened on the Rising Star and the trial, but for the past few days he's been impossible. Do you know what's bothering him? He blows up whenever I ask."

"He tells me it's nothing, that he's just tired and in need of a furlon, I was thinking of giving him one," Apollo felt a twinge of guilt at deceiving Starbuck's girlfriend, but he could hardly voice his suspicions to her.

"Maybe I should suggest we leave so he can get some sleep?" Cassiopeia wondered out loud as her eyes searched for the blonde-haired warrior in the crowd.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Good night Athena, I'm glad you got back safely," Noah yawned as Athena tucked the covers around his shoulders.

"I told you I would," she smiled at him.

"Adults aren't always able to keep their promises," Noah looked at her, his blue eyes shining in the dark.

With a pang, Athena remembered what she had just learned from Jack. "You're right, but they always try really hard," she brushed his dark blond hair off his forehead. "Sweet dreams," she was unable to stop herself from leaning over and laying a soft kiss on his forehead.

She watched as his eyes drooped closed and his breathing evened out. Quietly she made her way out of the room where Jack was already waiting. She had saved Noah for last so she could spend more time with him.

"So have you had dinner since you returned from your mission?" he asked.

"Heard about that too? Actually, I haven't..." Athena began.

"But Athena needs to get back to the Officer's Club on the Galactica," Omega broke in.

"No, I don't," Athena did not want to see Starbuck.

"You went on a mission with these people, you have to share a drink with them," Omega, who was just arriving, reminded her. "Most of them are your friends and are probably surrounded by resentful warriors," Omega was careful not to mention any specific names.

"He's right," Athena told Jack.

"I understand. How about another cycle?" Jack asked, eyeing Omega to see if he was competition.

"Sure, we can talk and work out our schedules. When will you be here next?" Athena suggested, dismissing the unspoken query.

"I'm not sure. I try to come whenever I can get away. How about you?" Jack asked.

"Same here, I'll contact you and let you know. What ship are you on, by the way?" Athena realized she didn't even know that piece of information.

"The Amici," he told her. "I look forward to seeing you again."

"That is one hot man," Omega observed as Jack walked away.

"Uh huh," Athena nodded.

"So I guess you were serious about there not being any guy, before now. Let's get the shuttle," Omega said and they began to walk down the corridor.

"So are you planning to tell me what happened?" Athena asked.

"It was lovely," Omega admitted quietly. "I think things are going to work out now."

"I'm so glad Omega," Athena said sincerely, tears in her eyes as she took in her friend's happiness.

"It'll work out for you also," Omega clasped her hand. "You just need a little faith. Now let's get a drink!"

<><><><><><><><><><>

[Officer's Club]

"Hey Starbuck," Jared greeted the warrior who edged his way in to stand next to him at the liquibar.

"Hi, Jared is it?" Starbuck asked.

"Let me buy you a drink?" the intelligence man asked. "We were a bit harsh before, I want to make it up to you. We've just been a bit stir crazy stuck on that ship. This mission, though not overly exciting, has done wonders for our morale."

"Sure," Starbuck accepted the peace offering. "Great job by the way."

"Thanks," Jared looked pleased at the compliment from the well-known warrior.

"So how do you all know Athena?" Starbuck asked as he affected a casual air.

"She comes over to the ship from time to time to have things analyzed and check out the new technology. Mainly, though, because she dated the head of our lab a few sectars back," Jared handed him a cup.

"Thanks," Starbuck raised his cup to the other man before drinking. "I didn't know she was dating anyone on the Communications Ship."

"Guess her love life is only big news when she's dating famous warriors," Jared speculated. "For her sake, I hope so."

"I know what you mean," Starbuck grimaced.

"Oh yeah, sorry," Jared said sympathetically, realizing he was speaking to the famous warrior himself. "It's great that you two can be friends, even if only half of what the IFB reported was true. I don't mean to sound overly inquisitive or anything, but it sounded really messy between you two and Cassiopeia. I'm glad you all survived it unscathed."

"You mean that we didn't shoot each other or go nuts?" Starbuck joked.

"Yeah, that," Jared chuckled. "We all love her and want to see her happy. You're her friend, you know what I mean."

"Yeah, she deserves the best," Starbuck agreed. "Thanks for the drink."

"Anytime," Jared told him before walking away.

Starbuck leaned back against the bar and took another long drink of ambrosa. He let his eyes wander around the room to see who had come out for the celebration. Though he hadn't gone on the mission himself, three days of deep probe was beginning to make itself known in his body. His muscles ached and his head felt heavy. But more than physically, he was tired emotionally as well. His mind had been running in circles ever since his return from the basestar and he wished he could just stop thinking.

His eyes lingered on Cass who was briefly visible as the crowd parted. Her hands could definitely cure the aching muscles, but they hadn't been able to calm the storm of thoughts crowding his head ever since he had been held in the brig and had only gotten worse over the past few days. The cups of grog and ambrosa he had been sucking down for the past few centars weren't soothing him either.

With a tired expression Starbuck put his half-empty cup on the bar and headed back to his friends.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"I want more details, when are you seeing him next?" Athena asked Omega once they had taken off and were headed home.

"We circled each other warily for a while and then we just admitted we still loved each other and wanted it to work. We made plans for tomorrow. You know, it was a morbid realization that the Destruction is what made it possible for us to get back together," Omega said with a tinge of sadness.

Athena slipped her hands into his as they remembered all the changes the Destruction had wrought on their people's lives. "I am glad that it has brought you together," Athena finally said.

"He was a fool to let you go," Omega took her hand in between his.

"Why does everyone assume he broke it off?" Athena asked, shaking her head.

"Didn't he?" Omega asked, surprise tinging his voice.

"Well, actually no. I managed that all by myself," she admitted.

"You so obviously cared about him," Omega looked at her strangely. "Why did you break it off?"

"I didn't mean to, not initially. Some things happened between us, it was just a case of bad timing," she shrugged.

"Oh, I can understand that," Omega said sympathetically. "So, this guy Jack seems very interested in you."

"He did, didn't he," Athena smiled wickedly. "He's really attractive. He likes kids and they like him. He's educated. He seems nice, I see some potential there."

"I also see some potential with that little boy Noah," Omega told her.

Athena's face started to glow. "He's a wonderful little boy," she said wistfully.

"There! That's the glow I was talking about. So it was a man, albeit a five-yahren old," Omega exclaimed.

"Really?" she looked at him sideways.

"You're attached to him already aren't you," Omega observed.

"Yes, I am," Athena admitted. "I know I'm not supposed to get attached to the kids or play favorites, but how can I help it? Do you know what Jack told me about Noah? He said that he had never seen him so open and animated before. His parents were killed during the Destruction."

"I told you that you have a way with children. They can see you're honest and sincere," Omega sounded proud of himself.

"Don't make me blush," Athena rolled her eyes.

"It's one of the few pleasures in life, don't take that away from me," he wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled him against her. "You did good today, kid."

"It's not over yet," Athena pointed out with a sigh.

"She can face Cylons and unknown dangers and little Starbuck scares her," he shook his head.

"You bet your last cubits he does!" she wasn't the least bit ashamed with Omega.

"I'll protect you," Omega burst out laughing.

<><><><><><><><><><>

[Officer's Club]

"Athena, Omega," Sheba greeted the late-arrivals.

"Hi, is there anything to eat around here? I'm starving!" Athena said by way of greeting.

"Not sure," Apollo told her. "Doubt there would be anything left."

"Let me go talk to Yaral," Omega said, referring to the bartender. "I'll get us a couple of drinks too. Anyone need a refill?"

"Yes, ambrosa. How kind of you to ask," Cassiopeia commented, remembering her boyfriend's rude departure a few centons ago and his failure to bring her back a drink.

"I'll be right back. Try not to eat your jacket," Omega teased Athena.

"How were the children? Relieved to see you?" Apollo asked.

"Yes," she smiled. "Oh, I forgot to see Boxey!"

"Don't worry about it. I told him where you had rushed off to and he understood. In fact, he's going to ask if he can come with you some time," Apollo reassured her.

"But I feel so terrible. How could I be such a bad aunt?" she asked.

"Relax, no one's perfect," Apollo hugged his sister. "Besides me."

"Fine, make me laugh, but I still feel terrible," Athena scolded him.

"Well, good. Boxey said you can make it up to him during mid-cycle tomorrow when you take him to lunch," Apollo threatened.

"I bet," Athena snorted. "I can take him to the Orphan Ship then if he wants."

Starbuck came to stand behind Cassiopeia as she finished speaking. "Hi Athena," Starbuck said in her general direction. "I'm beat, I'm going to turn in."

"Alone?" Cassiopeia mouthed at him.

Starbuck hesitated for a few microns. "No, of course not," he slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her against him. Cassiopeia smiled brightly at him before turning back around.

"I think what you're doing with those poor orphans is great Athena," Cassiopeia told the young woman sincerely. She didn't notice everyone around her wincing as Starbuck's face went blank.

"I think what they're doing for me is even greater, but thanks Cassi," Athena said diplomatically, keeping her eyes averted from Starbuck, although at that micron she wanted nothing more than to look at him and soothe the sore spot Cassiopeia had unthinkingly rubbed.

"Good night," Cassiopeia told everyone as she slipped her hand into Starbuck's.

"Good night," Starbuck echoed.

Athena was unable to help herself as she heard the undertone of fatigue in his voice and she let her eyes meet his. Her teeth worried her lip as she recognized the anger and pain battling in his gaze. Pity was the last thing Starbuck wanted and Athena knew that Cassiopeia hadn't meant it that way, but that was how it felt to him. Their gazes only held for a few microns, but it felt so much longer to Athena because she had seen so much in that short time.

'Does he think I pity them and him?' she wondered and wished she didn't care.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Starbuck," Cassiopeia tried to get the distracted man's attention. "Starbuck?"

"Hmm, what?" he turned his head to look at her.

"Is everything all right, I mean with us?" she asked.

"Yes, why do you ask?" he bluffed.

"You've been distracted this past secton, and short-tempered. Almost since you came back from the basestar. I think maybe what I said to you before you left is bothering you," she suggested, yahrens of training giving her words confidence. "I mean, is that why you didn't go on this mission, because of what I said?" she asked, unable to hide the minute amount of hope in her eyes.

"No, no, that didn't upset me," Starbuck stopped walking and turned her to face him. Inside, however, he suddenly wondered if the scene before that mission would explain why he was so upset lately? "And I didn't turn the mission down, I just wasn't assigned."

Cassiopeia studied his face for a centon. "Is that why you're angry and jumpy these days?"

"No, well, yeah, a little. I'm also tired and in need of a furlon," he brushed away her suspicion that he was angry.

"Sounds like a great idea. You do know that if you need to talk anything out that I'm here?" she asked him.

"I know," he smiled at her and put his arm around her shoulders. "Let's get to bed."

"I wish everyone would stop saying that! I just need some sleep!" Starbuck thought to himself as Cassiopeia slipped her arm around his waist as they continued their way to her quarters.

 

 

 

<><><><><><><><><><>
It's gonna take an act of faith
maybe love will find it's way back into your life
<><><><><><><><><><>
Chapter 4 - Gifts Given, Gifts Received
<><><><><><><><><><>
[A Secton Later]

"Here's the final results of my scans of the planet and the rest of the system. We'll be out of this system in another two days and there is no evidence of further Cylon activity and we will not be passing any more habitable planets. There is another planet which might have tylium and some other energy elements and they are being examined further," Athena reported to Colonel Tigh on the command bridge.

"Thank you Athena ," Tigh's eyes were scanning over the data on the console. "It's hard to let ourselves relax, isn't it?"

"Oh, I don't know about that," Athena said happily.

"Big plans for the night cycle?" Tigh asked with a raised eyebrow.

"It's Boomer's natal day celebration in the O' Club. Don't tell me you forgot?" Athena scolded.

"I just didn't think that was why you've practically been floating around here for the past few days," Tigh said sardonically. "Could it be that you're bringing a date to this celebration?"

"Could be," Athena winked. "But you'll have to show up to find out!"

"Have a good rest of your day," Tigh dismissed her.

"You too!" she waved and practically bounced off the bridge.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Athena rushed through the corridors of the Galactica towards her quarters. Sheba would be meeting her shortly so they could decide what to wear to tonight's celebration. Athena was bringing Jack to meet everyone and her appearance was the last thing she wanted to worry about. Since meeting a sectar ago, he had accompanied her and Boxey to mid-cycle meal, taken her out to dinner and they had seen each other a time or two on the Orphan Ship. Normally, Athena wouldn't have invited a non-warrior to meet everyone after only a secton of dating, but somehow it felt right to invite him to Boomer's party.

Of course, "right" had rapidly turned to nerves as she tried to figure out what to wear, how she was going to introduce him and the fact that she was going to see Starbuck and Cassiopeia for the first time in a secton.

"Only a sectar," she reminded herself because somehow it felt much longer. "Must be all this living in close quarters," she surmised. She sifted through her dresses for the second time with a disappointed sigh. Nothing seemed right. She hadn't bought a new dress since well before the Destruction and it showed. Everything struck her as either too seductive or too young. She fingered a turquoise dress with a particularly sour look on her face.

"Never let the man you are dating pick out your clothes when he's a known pig," Sheba commented as she entered the room.

"How did you know?" Athena dropped the dress back into the closet and turned around.

"Ick, that dress has Starbuck written all over it. I think Cassiopeia has one just like it," Sheba's own nose was wrinkled.

Athena pulled the dress from its hanger and tossed it at Sheba. "Here, give this one to her too, then!"

Sheba pulled the dress off her face and tossed it onto the bed. "I figured you didn't have anything decent either so I took the liberty of doing a little shopping for us," Sheba held up two boxes.

"You are the best! Be my sister!" Athena slammed the door to her wardrobe and headed for her friend's side.

"Well, it's not like I packed before I came to the Galactica," she shrugged. "And it's not like you've exactly spent your time on the Rising Star or the Arcade on the Vetement. So I said, why not?"

"Okay, you said why not...now are you going to let me see what you've chosen? Or should I be worried?" she eyed her friend suspiciously.

"Take a look," Sheba tossed one of the boxes onto the bed.

Athena dived onto the bed next to the box and placed her hands around it. "Shall we do this at the same time? Okay, one, two, three, Go!" Athena pulled the top off the box and peered inside. She looked into the box, her eyes wide for a few microns before looking to see what her friend was revealing from her box.

Sheba pulled a deep purple dress out of her box and held it up against her body. In accordance with the new fashion designed to ration the new fabrics, it was a simple sheath held up by wide straps on the shoulders with a round neck and fell down to above the knees.

"At the risk of making myself feel ill, Apollo is going to l-o-v-e that dress!" Athena sighed.

"Well, what about yours?" Sheba smiled and motioned towards the other box.

Athena reverently pulled the dress out of the box and held it up against her. Like Sheba's, it fell to above the knees and had a round neck, but thin straps held up this one. It was also a pure white color that contrasted dramatically with her light skin and dark hair. "I love it," Athena breathed and looked at her friend with tears in her eyes. It had been so long since she had gotten or been given something frivolous. "Thank you," she clasped Sheba's hand.

"It's just a dress!" Sheba brushed away Athena's emotion, though she understood it completely.

"Jack is going to adore you in that. I can't wait to meet him. Boxey said he's tall and has dark hair, not much help, and you've been avoiding us all sectar! So spill some legumes here!"

Athena carefully hung her dress and then Sheba's before answering. "He is tall, which is great. He has dark brown hair and matching eyes. A strong chin with a dimple. He also has dimples when he smiles, which is often. He's a legist and lives on the Amici. He's originally from Leo."

"So how does he kiss?" Sheba asked.

"Divinely," Athena confided.

"Sounds wonderful!" Sheba sighed. "I can't wait to meet him."

"I can't wait to see him. So, did you get the other thing?" Athena asked, referring to the present for Boomer they had collaborated on.

"Of course, I dropped it on the table out there," she pointed towards the living area. "It looked great. He's going to love it. So are you nervous?"

"Exceedingly!" Athena flopped back down on the bed and settled in for some "girl-talk" with Sheba. "I loathe introducing my dates to the guys, you know how they love to embarrass me."

"And Starbuck?" Sheba leaned on her elbow and inquired.

"What about him?" Athena traced a pattern on the blanket.

"You've been avoiding him and Cassiopeia. I know you didn't want to talk to me about it because of my friendship with Cassi, but you can," Sheba told her.

"I don't want to put you in an awkward position," Athena shook her head.

"It's already awkward Athena. Cassi is also a friend of yours and Apollo is his best friend and Apollo is my boyfriend," Sheba pointed out. "And you've been making yourself scarce for over a sectar now."

"What has Apollo told you?" she wanted to know first.

"What does Apollo know? You haven't talked to him about it either, which I can understand under the circumstances, so he hasn't told me much other than he's wondering what is going on between the two of you," Sheba informed her.

"Nothing is going on between the two of us," Athena was still loathe to reveal her pathetic situation.

"Athena, I'm your friend and I care about you," Sheba said gently.

"I know that Sheba, it's not that I don't trust you. This is just really embarrassing and it could be even more awkward for you because of your friendship with Cassi. I've just discovered some things about myself that I need to work out and I can't do it if I have to see Starbuck every single day," Athena admitted that much.

"You still have feelings for him," Sheba said sympathetically, wondering if she should reveal Apollo's conviction that Starbuck felt the same for his sister. "What about this Jack?"

"He's a really nice guy, so far. We've just started seeing each other. He has nothing to do with Starbuck," Athena assured her.

"He could be a good transition man, although you have dated other men in the sectars since you and Starbuck ended your relationship," Sheba pointed out.

"I know, but now I really, really want to put him behind me. I'm positive that staying away from him will help that. And I hope Jack will be more than a transition guy if things between us go well," Athena said. "I mean, not sealing or anything, but more important than some guy I use and toss away. I could never do that to someone."

"Have you told him about Starbuck and the situation?" Sheba asked.

"No, it's only been a sectar, I didn't want to scare him off. Besides, by the time we're serious enough maybe I'll finally be over Starbuck!" Athena said fervently.

"Shall I ask Apollo to threaten him to behave at the party?" Sheba offered with a grin.

"You know Apollo used to threaten to beat up the boys I dated. Too bad he won't beat up Starbuck now," Athena laughed. "Last time I saw Starbuck was after the mission in the O' Club and he left as soon as I came in. He'll probably just avoid me tonight. Or have another outburst," Athena's face flushed as she remembered Starbuck's last "outburst." That one had ended with them lying on the floor of a shuttle in each other's arms.

"He's been rather sedate this secton so he might behave like an adult," Sheba hoped for all their sakes it was true.

"Enough about that. Tell me how things are going with you and my brother," Athena said eagerly.

"Really well, I can't believe it. I mean, I really liked him and thought he was attractive, but Athena... wow! It's like he's a completely different person. He hasn't pulled away from me yet emotionally like he always used to do. He's a guy, so I know it's bound to happen sooner rather than later, but not every single day like before," Sheba sounded almost blissful.

"And?" Athena asked meaningfully.

"Athena! He's your brother!" Sheba teased. "No, not yet. It's only been a sectar that we've been like this. Not that I don't want to."

"Oh Lords, he's not saying you have to wait until you get sealed is he?" Athena laughed.

"Sealed," Sheba looked around the room. "Who said sealed? Not me, not Apollo. Slow down girl! No, he just wants to take things slow and I am in full agreement. I don't want to pressure him to move faster than he's ready. Actually, I'm shocked that we've gotten as close as we have. I see him everyday and he's so sweet," she sighed.

"My brother? Sweet?" Athena asked skeptically.

"I told you, it's a whole other person I'm dating, in addition to the Apollo I had already fallen for," Sheba sounded dreamy.

"Men are so weird!" Athena let her head fall onto the bed. "Should we order dinner or go to the Mess to eat before getting dressed."

"Let's order in. That way we can pamper ourselves before we put on the finery," Sheba voted.

"Sounds like a plan to me," Athena agreed.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Ready for your party?" Starbuck asked Boomer jovially as he entered the barracks.

"I'm looking forward to it," Boomer said sensibly.

"Boomer, Boomer, you don't get it. Every yahren I try to explain this. This is your party. You can have lots and lots of fun and excess and get away with it," Starbuck shook his head in disappointment.

"I've seen you practice that philosophy on your natal day, and everyone else's for that matter, and it only serves to remind me why I don't take your advice," Boomer rolled his eyes.

"Are you saying I make a fool of myself Boomer?" Starbuck asked archly.

"You said that, not me," Boomer held up his hands. "So did Cassi get off duty?"

"No," Starbuck grumbled. "She'll be coming, but not until later. She's practically the boss of the Med Techs, but she refuses to throw her power around. What a waste," he shook his head.

"Another reason why she is too good for you buddy," Boomer teased.

"Shh, not so loud, she might hear you," Starbuck whispered.

"So when are you two going to get sealed?" Boomer inquired, Starbuck couldn't shoot him on his natal day after all.

"Maybe I was wrong, you've already started drinking," Starbuck scowled.

"Just thought it might be time to be thinking about it," Boomer shrugged. "Is Cassi thinking about it?"

"I don't know, I never asked. She knows I don't want to settle down until we find Earth," Starbuck told him.

"You can't put your life on hold forever," Boomer advised.

"I don't see you moving to family quarters and hanging up the fumarellos buddy," Starbuck pointed out. "You didn't even invite a date to your own party."

"Haven't met the right person yet," Boomer said. "But I thought you had?"

"Cassi's a great woman and I love her. That doesn't mean we have to get sealed this cycle!" Starbuck waved his hands wildly.

"What about having children?" Boomer asked.

"I can't bring a child into this kind of life, it wouldn't be fair," Starbuck shook his head, sadly. "Besides, I can always play Uncle with Boxey. Don't you want to grab something to eat before the party?" Starbuck changed the subject.

"Sure," Boomer agreed.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Omega was pacing in the shuttle lounge waiting for the shuttle from the Orphan ship to land. It had been a few days since he had seen Caphis and Omega was anxious, still, about being with him. He was also nervous about introducing Caphis to the rest of his friends, although the fact that Caphis already knew Boomer and Athena was comforting.

"Are you planning on wearing a circle into the floor?" a low, sexy voice interrupted his inner musings.

Omega turned around and feasted his eyes on his much-missed boyfriend. "Hi," he said shyly.

"Come here," Caphis chuckled and wrapped his arms around Omega. "I've missed you. The comm isn't quite the same."

"Same here," Omega slipped his arms around Caphis' broad back. He looked into the laughing brown eyes and felt his tension ease. He knew this man and had always known this man, it seemed. It was absurd to be ill at ease around him.

"So how did we do it?" Caphis asked.

"Do what?" Omega brought his attention back to the man in his arms.

"Live without each other?" Caphis murmured as he brought his lips to meet Omega's.

'I don't know,' Omega thought to himself as his tongue swept inside Caphis' mouth and he felt himself lose his sense of anything but their kiss.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"So how do I look?" Sheba spun around letting the skirt of her dress flow around her.

"You look beautiful," Athena sighed. "You look so sophisticated with your hair swept up like that."

Sheba's hair was twisted and secured to the back of her head with wisps of her brown hair falling artfully around her face and neck. Its multi-hued color appeared to shimmer under the light, even the industrial lights on the battlestar. "It feels so soft," Sheba breathed as she touched a finger to her hair.

"Don't play with it, you'll pull it down," Athena warned. "Are you sure I shouldn't wear my hair up? It's always down."

"No, leave it! The dark color is striking against the white dress. Jack is going to fall over himself tonight," Sheba let out a low whistle.

"Yeah, with my luck he would be a klutz," Athena said with a pleased smile that belied her words.

"I bet Jack isn't the only man who will be knocked out tonight," Sheba said casually as she turned back to the mirror to play with her hair.

"The warriors don't even notice I'm not one of the guys," Athena scoffed.

"Are you blind?" Sheba turned away from the mirror to look at her friend, her eyes wide. "I can't believe you don't notice how many of them practically become blithering idiots when you're around. Even Starbuck's jaw has been known to drop on occasion. No, actually, I can believe it. The way I hear it you only had eyes for Starbuck since the micron you got on board. I think my duty tonight is to open your eyes to some of the other possibilities on this ship."

"They're not blithering idiots all the time?" Athena asked with a straight face. "Seriously, though, I'll be with Jack."

"Doesn't mean you have to become blind," Sheba said suggestively.

"We'll see," Athena dismissed the conversation. "I'm going to go meet Jack in the shuttle lounge. Apollo will be here soon for you and I think I should leave you two alone when he sees that dress."

Sheba's eyes were glowing as the possibilities crossed her mind. "See you at the Club," she waved to her friend.

"Just don't give me too many details. He is my brother," Athena groaned and left the room.

"I hope I have details to tell," Sheba mumbled as she studied her long nails, which Athena had painted to match the dress.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Are you ready?" Apollo let himself into Athena and Rigel's quarters.

"Just a centon," Sheba called out as she stood in front of the glass in Athena's room taking one last look and attempting to calm her nerves. In the few sectons she and Apollo had been seeing each other, she had never had the opportunity to primp for him. And never had she worn anything that showed as much skin as the new style did. Her heart was fluttering in her breast and she was momentarily afraid that even that could be seen through this dress. She licked her lips, bringing a shine to the deep brown shade she had applied and headed to meet Apollo.

She made her way into the outer room to find herself facing Apollo's back as he studied a holopic of Athena and Boxey that sat on a table in the room. She cleared her throat to get her attention.

"I don't know why you women always make us wait..." Apollo started to say as he turned around, then his jaw dropped making further speech a practical impossibility.

Sheba waited expectantly for him to recover his power of speech.

"You look," Apollo stopped talking and licked his lips. "You look beautiful." He walked until he stood before her.

"So you like the dress?" Sheba asked.

"I like the dress and I like the woman under the dress," Apollo placed his hand on her bare neck. "And I like the body underneath it," he let his hand slide down her back, gently caressing her bare skin.

Sheba leaned up and initiated a gentle kiss.

Apollo pulled Sheba's body against his and the kiss quickly became heated. His other hand slipped into her hair as he ravished her mouth.

A few centons later the couple pulled apart, breathing heavily.

"I think I've ruined your hair," Apollo whispered.

"I don't care," Sheba reached up and let her hair fall down around her shoulders.

"I don't think I am letting you out of here tonight," Apollo pressed his arousal against her stomach and smoothed her hair down around her shoulders.

"We can't disappoint Boomer," Sheba protested breathlessly.

"Boomer would understand," Apollo said against her lips.

"Waiting is good for the soul," Sheba pulled back, a wicked gleam in her eyes.

"And anticipation is good for...well, we'd better go now then," Apollo let reluctantly let her go. "Ladies first."

"You just want to check me out," Sheba let him know she was on to him.

"And?" Apollo chuckled.

"You'd better be," she shot over her shoulder.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"White dress, white dress," Athena reminded herself in order to quell the urge to wipe her sweaty palms on her dress. She had successfully managed to avoid Starbuck over the past sectar and their exchanges before that hadn't been positive. Now she was going to appear wearing this dress and a man in tow. It was an opportunity she feared that Starbuck wouldn't let pass by. Her dress made it obvious that the man beside her was important, as did the fact she was bringing him with her to what was essentially a warrior function. It would be an easy opportunity to punish her for what he perceived as her transgressions, namely not making herself available at his leisure and conspiring to exclude him from their last mission.

Athena eyes were drawn to Jack's dark hair as he entered the lounge and she eyed him closely, confirming that the man did appear strong enough to take Starbuck should it come to that. A devilish sparkle in her eyes, she approached the handsome legist.

"You look stunning Athena," Jack held her arms away from her body and studied her. "I can't tell you how pleased I've been with the new fashions this yahren."

"I didn't know you were so into fashion," Athena said with raised eyebrows.

"Not the fashion so much, but rather what it highlights," Jack winked and placed a kiss on her nose.

"Is that all this dress is worth to you?" Athena tilted her head.

"Were you expecting something more like this?" Jack swept her into his arms and assailed her with a passionate kiss.

"Mmm," Athena breathed when he finally let her lips free. "That was it. So are you ready?"

"To meet your friends?" he asked. "Should I be worried?"

"No, but I am," Athena admitted.

"Well, then I haven't performed my duties fully," he kissed her again, not stopping until she was, once again, breathless. "Still worried?"

"Not really, but I feel like lying," she looked into his dark, hazel eyes.

"I would like you to also, but perhaps not in such a public forum," he said in a low tone.

Athena pulled away as if she had been burned, a flush spreading up her chest and face as she caught sight of the interested gazes turned their way.

Jack took her hand and led her out of the lounge.

<><><><><><><><><><>
[Officer's Club]

Starbuck was in jovial spirits for the first time in sectons. It was one of his best friend's natal days and they were celebrating. He still felt a bit tired and sore from the seemingly excessive centars spent on patrol over the past few days, but nothing that would prevent him from having a great celebration.

"Whose round is it?" Starbuck inquired of his friends.

"I think it's yours," Boomer pointed at him.

"Oh yeah, well, this round is on me!" Starbuck gallantly offered. "Barman, another round!"

Boomer rolled his eyes at his friend's high spirits, though in truth he was relieved to see it. A depressed Starbuck was not a pretty sight. It was even a little disturbing when it was the man everyone looked to in order to have their own spirits raised.

"Another toast," Starbuck raised his fresh cup. "To Boomer, we're glad you were born!"

"You already made that toast Starbuck," Jolly pointed out.

"And is it no longer true? No!" he didn't wait for an answer and took a long pull on his grog.

"He's got a point," Bojay shrugged and plunged himself into his own drink.

Boomer laughed.

"Where's Cassi?" Brie walked over to the table and asked Starbuck.

"On duty," Starbuck shrugged, not letting his mood drop at the disappointing news. "She'll be here later."

"Oh good, we have a question for her. Happy natal day Boomer," Brie leaned down and gave the man in question a kiss on the cheek. "I might have a present for you."

"Oh?" Boomer looked at her inquisitively.

"Remember that woman you saw me talking to on the Star a couple of sectons ago? Well, she agreed to come tonight. I think she likes you too," Brie confided.

"Who? Oh, yeah, Rena? Great," Boomer said casually.

Starbuck started laughing at Boomer's nonchalance. Boomer had practically been drooling over the lovely agrician when they had met. Boomer shot him a glare, which only succeeded in making Starbuck laugh harder.

"I think I liked it better when you were depressed," Boomer grumbled after Brie walked away.

"Sure, whatever you say," Starbuck pushed his drink away and leaned back in his seat.

"Aren't you going to finish that?" Greenbean seemed startled.

"Yeah," Starbuck shrugged. "I'm just taking it slow."

"You don't want to fall asleep before Cassi gets here," Jolly conjectured.

Starbuck nodded in agreement, accepting whatever excuse was handy. He didn't want to have to explain that he suddenly didn't feel like drinking the altered liquid. It just didn't seem to be agreeing with him tonight.

"Wow!" Greenbean's exclamation caught Starbuck's attention. "She looks phenomenal."

Starbuck looked where the other warrior was looking and saw Sheba enter, hand-in-hand with Apollo. He had to admit, she did look attractive in that little dress. The new fashions were, in his opinion, a gift from the gods. He was thinking about investing in the fashion industry, it was a sure thing if it made women look like that.

"Stop drooling over my date," Apollo cuffed the thin warrior on the head playfully.

"He can't help himself. You look beautiful Sheba," Starbuck pulled the chair next to him out for her to sit down. "Get your date a drink, my round."

Sheba smiled at Apollo as he shot his best friend a look before complying.

"I try to teach him manners," Starbuck shook his head as if he was a frustrated parent.

"I like his manners just fine, Lieutenant," Sheba informed Starbuck.

"Where's Athena?" Bojay asked. "I thought you two were getting ready together."

"If Athena is wearing a dress like that, you all can just kill me after I get a look and I'll die a happy man," Greenbean placed his hands over his heart.

"She went to meet her date," Sheba explained as she laughed at his antics.

"Jack," Boomer nodded. "I can't wait to meet him."

"Well, here's your chance," Jolly commented as he saw Jack and Athena enter the club. "And Greenbean, where shall I shoot you?"

"Oh man!" Greenbean was practically panting.

"Good choice," Bojay looked at Sheba, congratulating her for picking out the dress. "Very good choice," he reiterated for emphasis.

Starbuck looked away from the door, which was in his line of sight, and pretended to be looking at something else.

"What are you all looking at?" Apollo set a drink down in front of Sheba and took a seat.

"Nothing!" Greenbean said, sounding absolutely unconvincing.

Apollo turned his head and saw his sister and a man he had never seen before engaged in conversation with Dietra, Brie and some of the other pilots. His eyes widened and flush spread across his cheeks as he saw her dress. He stood up quickly and then sat down again. His face dropped into his hands and he shook his head. "I am going to kill her," he murmured.

"Her dress is no more revealing than mine," Sheba reminded him.

"She's my sister," he told her needlessly. "I don't want a man looking at her like I look at you," he whispered.

"I picked out the dress, Apollo, just remember that," she said warningly. "She is an adult and a woman, not just your baby sister."

"Does everyone have to keep reminding me?" he looked up at the ceiling.

"You behave yourself," Sheba told him. "You embarrass her, I'll shoot you."

"Very good choice," Boomer said, feebly suppressing his mirth at Apollo's violent reaction.

Apollo glared at him before letting out a breath. "Fine, fine," he mumbled and took a drink.

"Hello," Athena stood next to Boomer. "Happy natal day," she leaned over and gave him a hug and a kiss.

Starbuck, sitting across the table from Boomer, felt himself flush as her motions revealed more than she likely intended. He squirmed in his seat and looked away again. His stomach was really beginning to roil now.

"Boomer, this is Jack. And this is my brother Apollo, Sheba, Starbuck, Jolly, Greenbean and Bojay. Everyone, this is Jack," Athena made the introductions.

"Let me get a couple of seats," Bojay offered and stood up. Greenbean followed and they carried a couple of chairs over. Everyone shifted and Athena and Jack sat down next to the guest of honor.

"You look lovely Athena," Boomer told her. "Why don't you get some drinks?"

"Ambrosa?" Jack asked her and, at her nod, headed to the bar.

"Athena," Sheba caught her attention. "Lazer hot!" she whispered.

Athena smiled as Apollo made a pouty face.

"But not as hot as you," Sheba kissed Apollo's cheek. Apollo rewarded her with a grin and she rolled her eyes.

"Very nice dress," Greenbean leered.

"I never knew warriors were so into fashion, did you Athena?" Sheba asked in a conversational tone. "There were quite a few other interested looks as you made your way into the room."

Jack came back and handed her a drink. "Happy natal day Boomer. Apollo, it's good to see you again."

"You've met?" Athena swung her gaze around to look at her brother for an explanation.

"I conferred with Jack when I was working on Starbuck's case. You don't think I would just rush in there totally unprepared did you?" he winked at his sister.

"Oh," Athena shrugged. "Where's Cassi?"

"On duty, she'll be here later. Well, soon by now," Sheba answered.

Starbuck stood up suddenly and walked away causing most people at the table to look at him in surprise as he strode away.

"How about a game of scurry?" Boomer diverted everyone's attention. "You owe me a tie breaker."

"I do. Do you play scurry Jack?" Athena asked her date.

"No, actually I never have. We didn't have it on Leo," he told her.

"Well, you're in for a treat," Boomer stood up. "The master shall teach ye."

"Yes, I will," Athena stood up and looked at Boomer challengingly.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Hello Jack. Athena," Caphis greeted the volunteers. Omega echoed the greeting.

"Come to watch me beat the natal day boy?" Athena asked them.

"Actually, they came to watch the natal day boy wipe the floor with the saucy bridge officer," Boomer corrected her.

"They probably came to watch me try and play this game," Jack shook his head at the constant bickering. One would think that Athena and Boomer were the siblings the way they carried on.

"Did you know that Caphis and I grew up together, Jack?" Boomer asked as he let Athena up for her turn.

"No, I didn't. Bet I could hear some interesting stories," Jack stated with some interest in the possibility.

"But not on my natal day, or in front of my fellow warriors. Only Athena here has an idea of my seedy past," Boomer was aiming his shot. "And Jack would be bound by legist-client privilege!"

"What about me?" Omega crossed his arms.

"You're just a trustworthy guy, Omega," Boomer explained his omission.

Athena started giggling and Omega shot her a look.

"What did we miss?" Caphis looked from one to the other.

"Nothing!" Omega said threateningly, which only sent Athena into another gale of laughter.

"Let me teach you the trick to tossing the scurry," Boomer smiled sympathetically at the man who was left out of the joke.

"Sure," Jack said in amusement.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"And from Athena and Sheba," Boomer announced as he opened the last gift. "My own scurry set!"

"So you like it?" Athena asked.

"It will give me more practice during down time, of course I love it. It wasn't too wise of you though," he threatened.

"I thought you needed the practice," Athena teased as he hugged her in thanks for the present.

"I bet Sheba put you up to it because she's tired of your baseless bragging," Boomer shot back as he similarly thanked Sheba.

"Sure, whatever you say," Athena tossed her hair over her shoulder.

<><><><><><><><><><>

While Jack was occupied talking with Omega, Athena wandered away from the crowd, needing some fresh air. She made her way to the music player and pretended to study the choices.

"Well, looks like your date finally pried himself away from your side," Starbuck sneered, suddenly appearing beside her.

Athena turned and made to leave.

"Wait," Starbuck's hand shot out and he grabbed a hold of her arm. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

Athena turned around and looked at the warrior. "Are you all right Starbuck?" she was concerned as she took in his pale face.

"I'm fine," he brushed off her question and pulled her off to the side of the room where they couldn't be seen. "I really am sorry. Not just for just now, but also for last time we, um, were alone. I was a jerk," he admitted.

Athena didn't know what to say. He was acting like a jerk, but she was actually glad because it made it slightly easier to avoid him. She wasn't even sure why she was giving him the time to speak to her now.

"I've missed you," Starbuck loosened his grip, but didn't actually let go of her arm.

"Why?" Athena felt perverse for even asking, but the answer was important to her. She felt all of her resolve to get over him slipping away as his bruising grip became feathery caresses down her bare arms.

"Because you're a big part of my life," he told her.

"That's crap Starbuck. You're just suffering from hurt ego because I'm not languishing in the background where you're comfortable to have me," Athena felt a shiver travel down her spine at her touch, but she couldn't bring herself to pull away.

"Is that what you think?" he asked hoarsely, his hands falling to his side.

"Yes, I do. You hardly ever noticed when I was there, so what's the big deal that I have other things to do now?" she pressed on.

Suddenly, Starbuck's hands shot out and he pulled her against him. "This is why," he growled and slammed his lips against hers. His grip tightened as she tried to pull away and he bit her lip when she refused to open her mouth. But she had to take a breath at which point he dived his tongue into her mouth and began to kiss her hard enough to bruise. The moan of pleasure inflamed him even more and he pressed his arousal against her pelvic bone. He felt her fingers digging into his scalp as her tongue dueled with his. His hand slipped to cup a buttock and press her closer and his other hand remained twisted in her hair lest she pull away.

He moved so that she was pressed against the wall and he slipped his hand under her dress and began to stroke her wetness. Her back arched as he slid a finger into her burning core and began to rub her arousal with the pad of his thumb.

"I want you," he said in a strangled whisper.

As soon as the words left his mouth, he felt Athena's nails digging into his neck and he let her go. His face was pale as he felt dizzy as he looked at her.

Athena was standing against the wall, which seemed to be the only thing holding her up. Her dress and hair were mussed. Her lips were swollen, her pupils dilated and her cheeks flushed. She looked like what she was, a woman who had just been ravished. He couldn't help but admire his handiwork, until he saw the tears fill her eyes.

Starbuck doubled over and ran a hand through his hair. "Oh Lords," he groaned. He stood back up and looked at her, guilt etched into his features. "I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me."

Athena looked at him with murderous eyes. "Stay the frak away from me," she hissed and stormed away.

Starbuck leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes.

"Are you all right over here?" Cassi's voice penetrated his shell of self-loathing.

"Actually, I feel terrible. Do you mind if we leave?" Starbuck said, the last bits of his energy slipping away. He must have looked as terrible as he felt because Cassi just looked at him worriedly and agreed.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"So, have I 'anticipated' enough for one evening?" Apollo whispered into Sheba's ear. They were sitting back at their table and he had his arm around her.

"Not sure," Sheba murmured.

"Oh," Apollo sighed. A micron later his lips pressed against Sheba's neck. "Now?" he whispered.

"Hmmm, I think so," Sheba pushed his head away, embarrassed by the attention, even though no one was actually watching them.

Apollo jumped up and pulled her seat out. "Good night all!" he said cheerfully.

"Happy natal day Boomer," Sheba gave Boomer another hug, interrupting his conversation with Brie's "present."

"Good night, thanks for the gifts guys," Boomer waved at them with his cup.

Apollo and Sheba waved goodbye to the rest of their friends before leaving the Officer's Club and heading to the rest of their evening... wherever and whatever that might be.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Are you all right?" Jack asked Athena as they walked out of the Club, his hand resting on the small of her back.

"Yeah," she sighed, wiggling her shoulders to work out the kinks.

"Here," Jack put his hands on her shoulders and pulled her to the side of the corridor. He began to rub her shoulders. "You've been quiet since the gifts were opened. Tired?" he asked sympathetically.

"Exhausted," she told him, not bothering to say it was mainly because the man she was trying to get over had just physically accosted her and once again proved just how vulnerable she was to him by causing her body to respond to his touch. "Let's go back to my chambers, unless you have to get back?"

"No, nothing pressing at this cycle," Jack smiled at her, understanding that he shouldn't read too much into the invitation.

Once in her quarters, she kicked off her shoes and they sat next to each other on the couch and began to talk.

"I didn't do that to your lips did I?" he finally broached the topic that had been on his mind for the past centar.

Athena dropped her gaze in humiliation. He was a legist, there was no way he wasn't going to notice her swollen lips! "No, you didn't," she looked back up, trying to see what the best tact to take would be.

"Starbuck?" he asked astutely.

Athena had almost forgotten that everyone knew some version of her romantic past with the man. "Yes, but it was uninvited," she defended meekly, not wanting to sound too defensive.

"He's still in love with you," Jack stated.

"No, nothing like that," Athena denied furiously. "His ego is burst because he's discovering that I'm my own person and not just... furniture in his life. It's not personal to me, or to you."

"I saw the way he was looking at you, even when he was trying not to look at you," Jack countered.

Athena sighed. "Jack, I can assure you, Starbuck loves his girlfriend. If you don't believe me, well, I hope you would because whatever he and I had ended a long, long time ago."

"Did it? Listen, I don't mean to cross-examine you or try to push you away from me, it's just that I can see that there is still something unresolved between you. If there's still baggage there, I'm willing to wait or help you work it out. I just want us to be honest with each other," he told her earnestly.

"I never meant to lie. It just didn't seem appropriate to tell you when we first met that I'm still getting over a guy I haven't dated in practically a yahren," Athena said with a heaping of self-directed loathing. "I do really like you Jack."

Jack took her hand and pulled it into his lap. "And I'm still getting over the family I lost in the Destruction a yahren and a half ago. Feelings just don't disappear and I would be disappointed if it were that easy for you to dismiss someone who was once so important to you. It doesn't make me like you any less or want to be with you any less. I guess it just makes it harder."

"Your family? I'm so sorry...what...who..." she wasn't sure how to phrase the question.

"My wife and son," he told her.

"Jack," she looked at him sympathetically. "I'm so sorry. That's why you spend time with the children?"

"Yeah. If my kid had lived and my wife and I hadn't, well, I would want someone to do it for him. And I miss him, and the kids make me feel less alone," he admitted.

"I'm truly sorry for your loss," Athena stared at their joined hands for a few centons. "Does this mean we won't work?" she asked in a resigned tone.

"I don't think so. In fact, it makes us rather compatible. We're still struggling over losses from the Destruction, why not help each other. I do really like you Athena and I am attracted to you. It's my heart that's a little lazer-shy right now," he told her. "That doesn't mean we should give up and I think we're at least friends."

"Ditto," Athena's smile was tinged with sadness. "I'm glad you told me, I'm glad we told each other. I would like for us to be friends."

"Just friends?" he asked.

"Well," she hesitated. "Can we be more than that knowing what we know?"

"Don't know until we try. I don't want you to get hurt or myself," he answered.

"Well, I'm not asking to get sealed or for your heart right now and you're not asking for mine. So I don't see why we can't have an enjoyable casual relationship with a good friendship at the heart of it," she suggested with a quirk of her lips. "I gotta say that this is pretty offbeat, even for me."

"Offbeat can be good," Jack assured her, studying her face to see if a kiss would be a good idea now.

"Seal it with a kiss?" she challenged with a raised eyebrow.

"Definitely," he murmured as he leaned forward and tried to make up for the abuse those poor things had obviously suffered.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Omega and Caphis stood in the turbolift alone, kissing and talking tenderly with each other. It seemed like just yesterday they were making their way in the world alone without the other. At the same time it felt like they had never been apart. Yet despite their ease and longing, they were both aware that what they were rebuilding was fragile. So neither was sure how long this night should last.

"Should I stay or go?" Caphis asked as his lips brushed against Omega's.

"What I want or what I think?" Omega ran his tongue over Caphis' sexy lower lip.

"Mmmm, I notice you didn't say what you feel," Caphis teased as he ran his palm up Omega's erection.

Omega moaned and slipped his tongue inside Caphis' mouth. Caphis pressed against Omega and pinned him against the wall of the lift as their lips teased and seduced. Omega's hands ran up and down his ex-and-hopefully-soon-to-be-again lover's back.

"Slow," Caphis murmured.

"Slow what?" Omega asked breathlessly.

"Us, slow," Caphis was breathing heavily.

Omega took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Tenderly, he stroked Caphis' neck. "You're right. But I want you so badly."

"I noticed," Caphis teased, pressing himself more firmly against the bridge officer. "As much as I want you."

Omega captured Caphis' mouth for another slow, deep kiss. "Frak slow," he growled and cupped Caphis' buttock.

"I think you have a point," Caphis quickly agreed.

Omega's hand reached out and redirected the lift to his level.

<><><><><><><><><><>

The door was barely closed when Omega grabbed Caphis and began to kiss him again. Caphis moaned and slipped his hands under Omega's tunic and pushed it up. Omega pulled away just long enough to help his lover push it off his body and then came back for more of Caphis' addictive mouth. A shiver ran up his body as Caphis dragged his short nails over his nipples.

Caphis pulled his mouth away and bent his head to lick Omega's hardened nipple. He took the pebble protrusion into his mouth and gently grazed it with his tongue. Omega's head was thrown back and he arched into the pleasurable caress. Caphis pressed a palm against his lover's bare back and held him firmly as his mouth slipped to lave the other nipple.

Omega felt like he was both floating and on fire at the same time. His erection was pulsing against the constriction of his pants. He longed to rip open his pants and place Caphis' grip around it. Impatiently, he began to pull Caphis' own top off him.

Caphis stood up and tossed his shirt away. "Shall we get more comfortable?" his muscled chest gleamed in the half-light.

Omega took his hand and led him to his bed, once again grateful for the private quarters. He pushed Caphis down on the bed and straddled his hips with his own. He ran his palms over the naked skin of his lover, enjoying the longed for muscles beneath the pads of his fingers. Caphis lay back and pulled Omega to lie over him. Their erections pressed together and pulsed together. Moaning, the two men pressed into each other and kissed until they were breathless.

"Touch me," Caphis begged in between kisses.

Omega reached down and opened the other man's pants and pushed aside the undergarment to free the large, pulsing organ into his hand. Caphis arched his back as Omega began to stroke him.

"Yes, yes," Caphis whispered into the dark.

Omega felt himself pulse in time with Caphis' approving murmurs. He watched as a drop of pre-cum formed on the glans and he bent over and licked it off.

He had to have more!

He hastily pushed Caphis' pants down and began to run his tongue up and down the engorged member. When Caphis began to tremble beneath his ministrations he took him into his mouth.

"Omega!" Caphis cried out and slipped his fingers into Omega's hair. "Oh Lords!"

Omega sucked until he felt Caphis' balls begin to clench and then began to move his mouth up and down its length.

Caphis' astrum muscles clenched as he felt himself near the pinnacle. "Oh Omega!" he cried out as he began to convulse uncontrollably and his release slid down Omega's throat. "Omega, Omega!" he cried as his lover licked him clean and then moved to hold him until his trembling ceased.

"I missed that," Omega murmured into Caphis's ear.

"You missed that? Oh Lords, Omega. I love you," Caphis hugged the other man tighter. "How about we get undressed and I make love to you?"

"Am I required to actually answer that?" Omega chuckled, a feeling of peace slipping over his body as he became reacquainted to the feel of lying naked and open with the man he loved.

<><><><><><><><><><>

[Cassi's Quarters]

"You really do look horrible Starbuck," Cassiopeia pushed him into a sitting position on her bed and began to undress him. "Are you sure you won't go to the Life Center and get checked out?" she asked again.

"You're a Med Tech, you check me out," he said wearily. His head was pounding and he closed his eyes against the glare of the light.

"I am and I say you're sick. I just can't be sure what it is unless I have a blood sample," she said again.

"Just let me sleep," he whined and flopped back onto the pillows. Cassiopeia pulled the covers over him before turning to undress herself. "There was something you wanted to tell me tonight?" Starbuck suddenly remembered.

"It can wait until you're feeling better," Cassiopeia assured him and turned off the lights before slipping under the covers with him.

"I'm not that sick. Tell me," he pulled her into his arms.

"I'm going to become a doctor," she revealed, excitement lacing her tone.

"A doctor doctor?" Starbuck asked stupidly.

"Yes, a certified doctor. Doctor Salik is going to help me. I'll have to spend a lot of time on the science ship over the next yahren or so to study and train, but my experience over the last yahren and a half will make it go faster than it might have otherwise," she explained.

"I think that's great," Starbuck yawned. "You can do it. You'll be a great doctor," his words got quieter and quieter as he slipped off to sleep.

"Yeah, so great I can't even get you into the Life Center," she grumbled.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"I noticed that Starbuck disappeared and we never saw Cassi," Apollo said loudly as they entered his quarters.

"Shhh," Sheba put a finger to her lips. "You'll wake Boxey."

"Boxey is safely asleep in his grandfather's quarters," Apollo told her as he motioned with an ambrosa bottle.

"Yes, I'll have some," Sheba sat down on the couch and looked at him closely.

"Pretty sure that you could lure me back here weren't you?"

"I just had faith," Apollo winked and handed her a cup before sitting down next to her. "So, here's to us and to faith."

Sheba touched her cup to his briefly. "It took a lot of faith to get this far."

"Are you referring to the Fleet or to your patience with me?" he asked.

Sheba smiled at him tenderly before dipping her head and taking a drink. After a few centons of silence she looked at him. "I'll still wait if you're not ready," she said softly.

"What do you mean?" Apollo was startled.

"I mean...if you still feel like you would be betraying Serina, I can wait," she studied his face, searching for a hint as to his reaction to her words.

Apollo put his cup down on the table at the side of his couch and took a deep breath before turning to face Sheba again. "Sheba, that is generous beyond words. I...," he broke off and swallowed. "I don't think I've loved you more than I have at this moment." He reached out and stroked her soft cheek. "I loved, I love, Serina. I always will, but she's gone and I'm still here. And now you're here Sheba. I've come to accept the fact that my love for you doesn't in any way detract from what she and I once shared," Apollo paused again and took a deep hitching breath.

"I won't lie and say it was an easy lesson to learn and I won't say that your words to me in that raider didn't anger me at the time, but you are meant for me now. You do know that don't you?" Apollo asked.

Sheba nodded as tears streamed down her cheeks. Apollo pulled her cup from her unresisting fingers and pulled her into his embrace. He leaned his head on top of hers and let his own tears mingle in her hair.

"Apollo, can I ask you something?" Sheba asked.

"Now you want permission to ask me something?" he chuckled as he swiped his cheeks with the back of his hand.

"Yeah, well," Sheba saw his point. "But really," she pulled out of his embrace and looked at him. "Do you think, I mean if Serina hadn't been killed and we met and, say, she wasn't your wife, would you have taken a second look at me?"

Apollo opened his mouth to speak and then shut it again.

"No, I don't mean do you love me more than her or anything like that," Sheba grabbed his hand. "This isn't about us. I've just been thinking about Starbuck and Cassi, actually."

"Oh," Apollo wasn't sure he should feel relieved or not. If she were to ask about Starbuck's feelings it would be very awkward all around. "What have you been thinking?"

"I've just had this feeling for a few sectons that things aren't going well between them. Actually, Cassi has said as much," Sheba explained.

"Probably just a fight or something," Apollo shrugged, intrigued despite himself to hear what she was getting at.

"No," Sheba shook her head. "Ever since Athena has been avoiding him he's been impossible to be around. Don't tell me you haven't noticed. I know that even you argued with him and that Athena was mentioned," she looked at him expectantly.

"What are you asking me Sheba?" he said suspiciously.

"Is Starbuck still in love with Athena? Is that what you think?" Sheba stated and folded her hands in her lap.

"I don't really feel comfortable discussing this with you Sheba. You're close with Cassiopeia and whatever Starbuck might or might not have told me in confidence, I can't share that even with you," Apollo jumped up and began pacing.

"Not to mention that Athena's your sister. I'm not asking you to reveal any confidences, and yes, Cassi is a good friend of mine, but so are Athena and Starbuck. I just want for everyone to be happy and, if Starbuck hasn't gotten over Athena, then it wouldn't be in Cassi's best interest if they ended up sealed," Sheba stated. "Athena has already told me how she feels about Starbuck. She loves him and that doesn't seem to be a big surprise to you," she studied his expression. "You fought with him about the proposal didn't you?"

"Yes," Apollo sighed. "I was angry that he hadn't told me, that she hadn't told me. I think I'm to blame for stirring up this whole situation. I mean Starbuck being impossible and Athena avoiding him."

Sheba shook her head. "I know for a fact that Athena's decision had nothing to do with that. It was just a coincidence. What I want to know is whether Starbuck loves her too, because if he does, then they're both suffering for no reason."

"And where would that leave Cassi?" Apollo pointed out.

"Better off than she would be if she stayed with him under such circumstances," Sheba reiterated. "I don't want to see Cassi hurt, but I'd rather she knew the truth now rather than twenty yahrens down the road after they've had children."

"You have a point," Apollo slumped down into a seat, wondering in passing how his romantic evening had turned into a discussion of his sister and his best friend's love life. "So what are you thinking? And for the record, I don't think we should stick our noses into this."

"I haven't thought of anything, but should I take it from your capitulation that you think Starbuck loves Athena?" Sheba stood up and walked over to stand behind him. She leaned over and placed her arms around his shoulders. "But why don't we worry about our love life tonight?" she whispered into his ear.

"I was hoping you would get back to that," Apollo leaned his head back onto her chest. "Did I mention how much I love that dress on you?"

"Would you love that dress off of me?" she bit his ear.

"Oh yeah," Apollo readily agreed. "Come here," he patted his knee.

Sheba slipped around the chair and perched herself in his lap. Apollo pulled her deeper into his lap and began to caress her thigh, slipping his fingers higher with every stroke.

"You are a tease, Captain Apollo," Sheba smiled at him.

"You think so?" he asked with an evil grin.

"Yes," Sheba raised her chin.

Apollo leaned his head forward and began to kiss up her exposed neck until she gave in and pressed her lips against his and slipped her arms around his neck. Apollo leaned into the kiss and then slipped his hand underneath the hem of her dress and drew small circles at the top of her thigh. Apollo's lips slid back down to her neck and her long hair fell down her back as her head arched to give him more surface area for his attack.

Apollo pulled his hand out from under her dress and reached up to her shoulder and slipped the strap down and began to kiss the exposed skin. He quickly realized that the dress couldn't be pulled off her body by slipping it down and he gave up. Instead, he ran his tongue over the dress and took her nipple into his mouth through the dress.

"Apollo," Sheba breathed, arching her back and pressing his head against her breast.

Apollo nibbled and sucked her breast as he slipped his hand up her thigh. Slowly and teasingly, he slid his finger towards her center. When he finally reached his target, his finger slid over her undergarment. His hand began to shake as he felt the wetness of her arousal and he swiftly pushed aside the barrier and began to stroke her already swollen clitoris.

"Oh Apollo," Sheba breathed and spread her legs apart.

He moved his mouth to her other breast and gently slid his finger inside her. As his teeth tortured her swollen nipple, his finger tortured another focal point of arousal.

"Oh!" Sheba thrust into his hand and he slipped another finger inside and began to thrust.

He felt her tremble in his arms and he removed his fingers. He smiled in satisfaction at her whimper of disappointment. In one motion he slipped his arm under her knee and lifted her up and carried her to his bedchamber.

He lay her down on the bed and tossed off his warrior jacket, letting it fall to the floor as he climbed onto the bed to loom over her. "May I make love to you?" he asked, his lips and body hovering just above her own.

"Please," Sheba slipped her arms around his neck and brought his lips to hers. As they kissed, she felt Apollo's arousal settle between her legs and she arched towards him. His hands slipped her dress up and then off her body. He balanced himself above her and studied her body, clad only in her undergarments.

"You are so beautiful," he whispered, awe tinging his voice.

Sheba blushed at his words and ran her hands under his tunic, urging him to take it off for her. When he had finished, she rubbed her palms over his naked torso, mesmerized by the feel of his soft skin encasing his hard muscles. She looked up at his face and waited for him to continue the seduction. He had to choose and follow through in putting aside his ghosts.

After a centon, Apollo lay down again against her and began to make love to her. His hands and lips were everywhere.

Soon, her undergarments were history, as were the rest of his clothes, all flung somewhere in the direction of the floor. They lay entwined in each other's bodies reveling in the feel of their bare skin against the other's. Apollo's mouth followed everywhere his hands had touched and Sheba was certain there was no part of her body that had not been seduced. Apollo could soon say the same.

Yet, tonight wasn't about creativity or lust. Tonight was about the future and discovering their love. So neglecting things they might otherwise have done, Apollo was poised to enter her and consummate their commitment. Instead of closing their eyes or allowing themselves to be sucked away by the physical sensation, they stared into each other's eyes as he slowly eased himself into her waiting body.

His eyes flickered as he felt her hot tightness surround him, but he forced his eyes to stay open so he could watch her feelings and reactions. And she could see his.

They moved against each other in a slow, tortuous pace for as long as they could, but as always happens when two people love each other, their restraints were soon tossed away. Cries of pleasure were mingling as they sped together towards ecstasy. Then, at the very last micron, before they reached release, Sheba grasped Apollo's head and forced his eyes to look into hers.

Whether it was that she was seeing stars before her own or real, Sheba would later swear she saw flashes of golden fire in his hazel eyes.

He would swear he saw into her soul.

Centons later they held each other, their bodies sweaty and replete.

"Call me a tease will you," Apollo rasped.

"You always work harder when you're challenged," Sheba refused to give him the last word.

"Oh, you think so!" he rolled until she was on top of him. "And what about you?"

<><><><><><><><><><>

"I can't believe you wanted to get up so early after your natal day party and work out," Athena shook her head as she and Boomer left the fitness center and headed for the Mess Hall.

"Yeah, well, after meeting Jack I can't believe you were alone when I showed up," he elbowed her in the ribs.

"I just met him a sectar ago," Athena reminded him.

"And?" Boomer drawled.

"Ooh, not even touching that one," Athena covered her face. "So did you have a good time last night?"

"I wiped the floor with you in scurry, I got some great presents, spent time with my friends - how could I not have a good time?" he asked.

"And what about the lovely young woman I saw you speaking to last night?" she pressed on.

"We have a date in a few days," Boomer revealed with a grin.

"Happy natal day," Athena winked. "I think you owe Brie big for this."

"I do," Boomer winked.

Athena groaned and Boomer pushed her onto the line.

"Can you believe they make us stand and wait for this stuff?" Boomer grumbled as he looked at his plate.

"I'd be more afraid if this is what they served us when we were sitting down," Athena remarked. She had long ago given up complaining about the food. Not considering the sometimes-desperate situation in the rest of the Fleet. Hopefully the new plants they had recently obtained would result in some more favorable sustenance. It seemed like forever since they had spices.

"So did you have a good time?" Boomer resumed their earlier conversation.

"Yes," she smiled at him, pushing away the memory of her run in with Starbuck.

"Why do I sense a shadow under that answer?" Boomer asked. "Is everything okay with you and Jack?"

Athena pushed her food around her plate for a few moments before answering. "We had a very revealing heart-to-heart last night," she said.

"And?"

"About how neither of us are in a place for all out commitment right now, but that we'd still like to spend time together and see what happens," she shrugged.

"Doesn't sound very promising," Boomer observed.

Athena sighed and pushed her plate away. "Timing. He's a wonderful and attractive man, he just has some baggage from the past. As do I," she shrugged. "Who knows, though, we might be able to work through it and put it behind us together. We're not giving up."

"Sounds like it could be a transition relationship," Boomer leaned forward. "But I hope this one works out better than that."

"It will, one way or another," Athena smiled at her friend. "Let's not be so depressing on this fine morning."

"No one told me there were rules," Starbuck sat down at their table, not looking too happy.

"See you later Boomer, I have to get to the bridge," Athena grabbed her tray and walked away.

"Gee, was it something I said?" Starbuck said sarcastically as he watched her walk away.

"Don't tell me you two argued again," Boomer sighed. "What is with you? Can't you just leave her alone?"

"She's avoiding me," Starbuck said stonily. "She denies it, but I can tell."

"And so what if she is?" Boomer asked him.

Starbuck looked like he was about to answer when a puzzled look came over his face.

"And you look like crap, Apollo is going to kill you for drinking too much last night," Boomer commented as he continued to eat.

"I only had two grogs," Starbuck mumbled and walked away.

 

 

<><><><><><><><><><>
Here's my heart my love is in it
<><><><><><><><><><>
Chapter 5 - Evolution
<><><><><><><><><><>
[Apollo's Quarters]

Sheba woke up to find Apollo leaning on an elbow and smiling down at her. Sheba smiled up at him tenderly until she woke up enough to be uncomfortable. What exactly was she supposed to do about her breath in this situation?

"Don't turn away," Apollo told her. "You look beautiful."

Sheba shook her head and refused to open her mouth. Apollo chuckled as he realized her concern.

"You're going to have to get used to this eventually," he coaxed her by sliding his hand over her abdomen.

"Not if I start waking up before you," she mumbled.

Apollo laughed and tickled her stomach. "Roll over, here," he refused to give her quarter.

"You asked for it," she warned him and turned around. As soon as she did he captured her mouth and kissed away her concerns.

He pulled away and kissed her forehead. "I have to get out of here for patrol, but feel free to stay as long as you like."

Closing her eyes and snuggling further under the covers Sheba allowed herself to pretend that she had the luxury of going back to sleep. She allowed this for all of a centon it took until the door closed behind Apollo. Then she tossed the blanket aside and flipped over onto her stomach and contemplated the room around her. She was surprised to realize that the room was more masculine than she had expected, though it was obvious he hadn't redecorated all that much since Serina had died. Sheba surmised that the masculine flavor had more to do with the fact that he and Serina hadn't lived together very long, rather than Apollo having prepared the suite for her presence.

Pulling her mind away from useless wonderings about Apollo's wife, Sheba dropped her head onto the bed and allowed images and sensations from the passionate cycle before to fill her mind. Well, she stretched out a few centons later, this is a pleasant way to be sore!

Her thoughts then turned to the conversation she and Apollo hadn't finished as they were, busy, doing other things. She hadn't mentioned it to Apollo, but Sheba had her own suspicions about Starbuck and Athena. Before they had left Sheba had caught sight of Athena looking like she had been well and truly kissed and, since Athena hadn't been smiling, Sheba didn't think it had been Jack who had done the kissing. But there was only one way she was going to find out.

At her last thought, Sheba abandoned her indolent pose and got up to start her own day.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Good Cycle, Omega," Athena ran into her friend as they approached the bridge. "So, how was your night cycle?"

"Great, wonderful," he was clearly euphoric over his renewed union with his long-lost love.

"Glad to hear it," Athena told him with a smile.

"How about you and Jack?" he asked.

"Not so simple," she shook her head. "It seems I'm not the only one with emotional baggage."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Omega said sympathetically, his hand cupping her elbow briefly.

"We're not giving up, we just have some hurdles to clear. We'll see what happens," she said

philosophically.

"If you need someone to talk to, you know where I am," he told her.

"Thanks," Athena appreciated the offer. "I'm going to see Noah after we get off duty and I'm taking Boxey. Want to tag along?" she asked, sure that he would grab the excuse to see Caphis.

"Do I really need to answer that?" he chuckled at her expectant look.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Apollo was pacing next to his viper. Starbuck was once again late for patrol the morning after a party. He was going to either have to punish his warrior or schedule better.

"Finally," Apollo heard Starbuck's approach. He took one look at his wingmate's face and his relief fled. "I can't believe you even dared to show your face looking like that! Get out of here, you're not flying hung over," Apollo was furious.

"I'm not hungover, I only had two drinks," Starbuck insisted.

"Whatever Starbuck," Apollo sighed. "Get to the Life Center. I'll get Jolly to cover for you." Apollo turned away and went to find a launch bay crewman to prepare the Flight Sergeant's viper.

Starbuck sighed and walked out of the launch bay. In truth, his head was pounding and his stomach was doing somersaults and he didn't have the energy to argue with Apollo. But he knew there was no way two drinks could be making him feel like this. He wasn't sure what was making him feel this way, but he suspected it was probably because he hadn't slept much in the past couple of sectons.

He sunk back against the turbolift wall and groaned as it's movement increased his nausea tenfold. When the lift finally stopped, a cold sweat had broken out across his forehead and he weakly stumbled towards his bunk, sure that a little more sleep would make him feel better.

It had to be lack of sleep. He couldn't be sick because that would mean he would be pulled from patrols until Doctor Salik was satisfied he had fully recovered. And as much as he wanted a furlon he didn't want some body prodder having a hold over his fate.

When he woke up a couple of centars later, he immediately knew that his wish had been in vain as he jumped up and sprinted for the turboflush and let loose the contents of his stomach. When he was finished, he washed his mouth and face as the room spun around him.

With a resigned groan he trudged back to his bunk, put his clothes back on and headed to the Life Center. At least Cassi would enjoy this. He was finally at his mercy.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Captain Apollo has pulled Lieutenant Starbuck from patrol and replaced him with Flight Sergeant Jolly," Athena heard Omega inform her father behind her.

"Did he give any reason?" the Commander asked.

"He said the Lieutenant was ill," Omega said in a voice devoid of emotion.

Athena could feel Colonel Tigh and her father looking at each other skeptically. They both knew about the party last night and Tigh had even made an appearance to wish Boomer well. Whatever was really going on, Athena knew that Starbuck would not be let off lightly by her brother despite their friendship. For Starbuck's sake, Athena hoped he really was sick.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"I would diagnose a bacterial infection," Doctor Salik pronounced as he finished examining the moaning pilot.

"Cassi, take a blood sample so we can pinpoint which bacteria and prescribe an antibiotic. I'm sure we'll have it under control in no time," he patted Starbuck's shoulder lightly. "Meanwhile, I'll go inform the Commander so we can have the other attendees of the party checked out. And yourself Cassi," he reminded her on his way out.

"I know, I know, you told me so," Starbuck lay back on the table as the room began to spin again.

Cassi drew his blood and passed the sample on to another Med Tech. "Lila will help you to a room as soon as you feel able to get up. You'll be fine soon, I promise," she kissed his forehead.

"I don't think I'll ever be able," Starbuck said feebly as she left.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Colonel Tigh sighed as he heard the news from Doctor Salik.

"Athena, Omega, Rigel and anyone else who was there last night, get to the Life Center now and get checked out." He was relieved to see that only a few of his staff got up to leave. He had a remaining crewman put a call out to Apollo on patrol to order him back. They couldn't leave a potentially ill pilot in the air. Tigh also ordered up a replacement pilot.

"Sir," Athena approached the Colonel. She bit back a smile as Tigh held up a hand to stop her from getting close. Her father looked at her expectantly. "Caphis from the Orphan Ship and Jack from the Amicus were both at the party last night, there were also some women from one of the agro ships," she informed them.

"Oh Lords," Adama said when he thought of the children. "Tigh contact the Amicus and track down Jack. I'll call Caphis," he said and did just that. "Lieutenant, to the Life Center," he ordered his daughter as he waited for contact with the Orphan Ship.

Athena turned on her heel and headed out. Images of Starbuck's kiss filled her mind as she made her reluctant way to the ship's health center. If she had this, she was going to kill him. And, if the kids got it, she was going to torture him first!

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Omega and Rigel, your tests are clean. You can report back to the bridge," Cassiopeia informed the impatient bridge officers.

"Thanks," Omega sighed in relief, then his eyes strayed towards his friend who was still sitting in her curtained testing area. "And Athena?"

"Unfortunately, Athena seems to have picked up this infection too, although it is still in the incubation period," Cassi informed them.

"Why do I have a feeling that this means that I have to be locked up in here for the duration?" Athena's shoulders slumped.

"Because it does, although we don't like to compare it to the brig, you'll have Starbuck to keep you company," Cassi said with some humor.

"Oh sure, you work here," she griped, trying to keep a good face on things. Inside, however, she was still fuming. "This is all Starbuck's fault and, when I see him, I'm going to kill him," Athena thought to herself, then her face flushed as she remembered his assault on her the night before.

"So how long does this thing take to show up or is it possible it won't manifest?" she asked hopefully.

"I wouldn't count on it not showing up. It's hard to say how long until it appears. You may have a prodrome period first, like Starbuck did, where you begin to feel achy and run down," Cassi informed her. "And, before you ask, we discovered when we looked at Starbuck's blood that, while we know what bacteria this is, we haven't found a strong enough control shot against it. The best we can do is help your immune systems fight it. Omega, you might as well pass that along to Colonel Tigh. He'll need to have someone fill in for Athena on the bridge for an indefinite period of time."

"Please don't tell me I'll be quarantined with Starbuck," Athena groaned even as inside she was hoping she would be left alone with the soon-to-be-dead warrior.

"Listen, Athena," Omega called out before he left. "I'll take Boxey with me to the Orphan Ship and introduce him around."

"Thanks Omega," Athena waved. After her coworkers had left she looked around and wondered what she was supposed to do in the Life Center for an indeterminate period of time.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"The Orphan Ship appears unaffected, although Jack on the Amicus does have it. We're not sure yet where it came from or why only these three have been infected so far," Tigh informed Adama.

"So somehow only Athena, Jack and Starbuck have it," the father in him wasn't examining that fact too closely.

"Yes, Sir. Jack has been quarantined on the Science Ship," Tigh sounded uncomfortable. "Not all the tests results are completed."

Adama closed his eyes and shook his head. With Starbuck involved, things were never simple.

"Thank you, Tigh, keep me updated," he nodded to his friend. He really didn't want to have to report to the Council that the warriors were responsible for spreading this.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Apollo was torn between guilt and annoyance. He was annoyed at being yanked from patrol when he felt fine, even though he completely agreed with the reasoning. He felt guilty for giving his friend a hard time when he really was sick. Starbuck's words from their argument a couple of sectons ago came back to him. Once again he had doubted his friend's integrity. He was such a coltig's astrum.

"I owe you big," Apollo sighed. He would make it up to Starbuck somehow.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"So where is Starbuck?" Athena asked as Cassi led her down an empty hall to where she would be staying.

"Next door," Cassi pointed to the door marked "5."

"Lovely," Athena mumbled to herself as Cassi showed her into her lovely room "3."

"Listen, think of this as a mini-vacation for now. Later you'll be glad you're here and not at work," she pointed out.

"You have such a bedside manner," Athena chuckled.

"Only with my favorite patient. The other one I might just murder, or one of the other Med Techs will!" Cassi gestured towards Starbuck's side of the wall.

"Giving you a hard time? He was never easy when he was sick," Athena grimaced as she remembered a few times when she had been blessed with that experience. "How is he?" she only asked because she wanted to be sure he was well enough to understand why she was killing him.

"Actually, not well at all, so we're trying to be patient," Cassi's look turned sympathetic.

"Do I want to know how he's suffering?" Athena asked hesitantly, knowing she was in for much of the same soon enough.

"No," Cassi shook her head. "The bacteria seems to be concentrated in the respiratory area and the inner ear which is what is causing Starbuck's nausea. Once his body has enough of the antibiotic we do have he'll start to recover. And we still might find something useful in the plants we obtained from that planet. We'll start you with the course of medication now, it might make you tired though."

Athena sat down on the bed. This sectar was getting worse and worse. "Can I see him? It's not like I need to be kept away at this point," Athena asked.

"I'm not so sure you want to see him like this," Cassi delicately suggested.

"I've seen him this way. One yahren he and Apollo came to our house for furlon and both caught the Zwei Virus. My mother and I took care of them," she told Cassi. "It can't be any worse than that," she scrunched her nose in remembered disgust.

"No, it's probably not that bad," Cassiopeia laughed.

Athena looked away guiltily as she remembered just how it had likely been passed between the three of them. Guilt for Cassiopeia's sake, not Starbuck's - he deserved it! "Is there any way I can get a hand-held in here? And what about a change of clothes?" she asked in lieu of admitting the truth.

"Life Center garb I'm afraid," she pointed to the waiting garment. "And Omega already slipped you a hand-held."

Athena picked up the horrible gown-thing and found the hand-held. "At least I won't be totally bored," she smiled at the Med Tech as she realized she had really missed the woman's company over the past couple of sectons. Well, she would probably have plenty of it over the next indeterminate period of time. "Do I really have to wear this thing?" she held up the flimsy gown. At least they had closing backs now she noted.

"You really do. I also brought you a robe since you'll be hanging out with us for a while," Cassiopeia told her. "If you need anything, let us know."

"Thanks Cass, I don't mean to be difficult," Athena apologized for her grousing.

"No need, I would be worse if I were in your position," the Med Tech assured her before leaving.

Athena flopped down on the bed, the gown in one hand and the handheld on her stomach. This was a nightmare, it had to be. She couldn't be stuck in quarantine next door to Starbuck who had an infection only she and her date had.

<><><><><><><><><><>

It was all Starbuck's fault and she was going to make sure that he knew she knew it and that he was going to pay for it! Athena pulled the robe over her scantily clad body and peeked into the hall to make sure it was clear. All she needed now would be for the IFB to be watching and broadcast her scantily clad visit. By the time Zara got through with them, Athena might well be carrying Starbuck's love-child instead of his bacteria. Full of self righteousness Athena strode into Starbuck's room without knocking.

Athena paused just inside the doorway to let her eyes adjust to the dim lighting. Once they did, however, her anger faded.

Starbuck was lying on the bed with a hydration line in his arm, which freaked her out a bit, looking not well at all. She walked to his side and saw that he was awake.

"What are you doing here?" he rasped out.

Athena's heart skipped a beat at the weak sound. She studied his face. He was pale except for two bright spots of color on his cheeks and his forehead was beaded with a sheen of moisture. Athena looked around and found a basin of water and a cloth. Without a word she dipped the cloth into the cool water and squeezed it out. Tenderly she lay it over his forehead and sat down on the side of his bed.

"Don't!" Starbuck grabbed her arm. "Don't...move...." he told her.

Athena took a deep breath and stopped herself from jarring him.

"That feels good on my head," he said a few centons later when his stomach stopped rioting.

Athena gently ran her moist fingers over his face and he sighed with pleasure and closed his eyes. He was burning up and she felt her heart squeeze. She hated to see him in pain of any kind, unless she got to inflict it for kissing her last night. If no one else ended up sick from this, and apparently Cassiopeia wasn't yet, it could cause unimaginable problems for all of them.

"You look like felgercarb," she whispered. "I guess I don't have to punish you for last night after all."

"You can talk in a normal tone of voice, the headache is mostly gone," he wearily informed her. "And I know I look like daggit meat and deserve it for what I did. Can I claim that I was delirious with fever?"

"Were you?" Athena smiled at his singular nature. There was no one else who could arouse such ire in her and just as quickly smote it down. She removed the cloth from his head to stroke it along his face and neck. His breathing became calm again and he practically hummed with pleasure. Then, suddenly, he jerked up and leaned over the other side of the bed and began heaving into the waiting receptacle.

Athena stood up and waited out his bout, keeping her back to him to give him privacy. When he was done, she handed him some mouth rinse and, after rinsing his mouth, he lay back down and tried to catch his breath.

"Sorry," he croaked out.

"I usually don't have that effect on men when I'm on their beds," Athena chuckled.

"I usually don't have that reaction to women when they're on my bed. So why are you here?" he smiled at her humor.

"I have it too. That's why I'm allowed in here parading in another great Fleet fashion," she waved the flaps of her robe.

"Looks better on you than me," he joked. "My stomach actually feels a lot better now," Starbuck sounded relieved.

"How long have you been," she waved towards the other side of the bed.

"Since before the morning cycle," he told her.

"Oh, only eight or so centars, great," she smiled at him. "I hope for both our sakes that's over with now."

"Yeah, you hate puking more than I do," Starbuck remembered with a small chuckle.

"Okay, if we need to walk down memory lane, choose another path. How about when Mom and I took care of you and Apollo all those yahrens ago?" she raised an eyebrow.

"That was a spoiled furlon, but you were so cute," he closed his eyes.

"I was not cute! I was a mature sixteen," Athena raised her chin.

"An alluring sixteen yahren old," Starbuck patted her hand. "How do you feel?"

Athena looked at the hands in her lap and sighed. "Truthfully?" she looked at him questioningly.

"Always," he quirked his brows at her to show he too understood the irony.

"I'm starting to feel achy and tired, but that could be boredom. This really stinks," she told him unnecessarily.

"Well, there's no reason we can't be bored together," Starbuck sighed. "Is anyone else going to be joining us?"

"No one else on the Galactica has tested positive, yet," she informed him.

"Other ships?" Starbuck asked.

"Just Jack on the Amicus," she said with raised eyebrows.

"Oh, great. Has Cassi, um, asked you any questions to determine how it was transmitted?" he asked hesitantly.

"Actually, Doctor Salik did. He didn't ask if we kissed so I didn't volunteer the information figuring that none of kissed anyone else and I thought I'd better talk to you first. But I'd better tell him soon so others can be warned," she pointed out.

"It's not like I went around kissing other people. Not even Cassi now that I think about it. Funny, this conversation is making me feel like throwing up again," Starbuck gave her a phony smile. "I probably should talk to Cass before you talk to Doctor Salik."

"I don't think I want to be stuck in here after you have that conversation," Athena looked down at the hands in her lap.

"She's not going to be upset with you, it was all my doing," Starbuck pointed out.

"I did participate somewhat," she said in a guilty voice.

"My Lords, I practically raped you!" Starbuck hissed.

Athena looked up at him, surprised by the vehemence in his voice. Yes, he had started their encounter and he had been rather forceful, but her answering arousal had been more than obvious. She didn't want him to feel the deep guilt he was obviously feeling, but was scared to delve too deeply into her own actions. "That's not quite what happened."

"I grabbed you and I threw you against that wall and, and..." he couldn't even finish.

She saw his feverish flush darken and realized she had better get it all out into the open.

"And my tongue was in your mouth and my hands around your head," she closed her eyes. "You know how aroused I was."

Her words broke though Starbuck's haze of self-loathing and his mind flashed back to the feel of her answering arousal in the O' Club. His breathing quickened and he felt himself become aroused as he looked at her now. Regardless of the fact he felt terrible and she was mortified and couldn't look at him. Seeing her legs peeking out of her robe, he wondered if there was a time he hadn't found this girl beautiful.

"Do you still want me?" he couldn't help asking.

"What?" Athena's jaw dropped open and she looked at him.

"I mean," Starbuck hurriedly looked for a bluff. "Are you sitting here to seduce me?"

"No!" she glared at him.

"Last night was an aberration. A stupid one that has probably gotten us in trouble," Starbuck tried to infuse confidence in his voice and will his obvious arousal down before she noticed it.

"Whatever happened, Cass only needs to know that I started it and you ended it," he put his hand on her thigh, unable to not touch her.

"I hate lying," she looked troubled.

"You are not part of Cass and mine's relationship. It should only matter what I did," he said.

"It still doesn't feel right, but maybe it's silly to make a big deal out of something that will never happen again? Anyway, I should go," she stood up and turned away.

"Why don't you stay a bit longer, it's not like we have anything else to do," Starbuck grinned and pulled her hand until she was lying down next to him. With only a moment's hesitation, Athena closed her eyes and snuggled against him. "So, tell me a story."

"Well," Athena chuckled for a micron before continuing. "There was this viper pilot who was known to be a rogue and he had a wingmate who was a real stickler for the rules, especially when it came to his rogue wingmate. One cycle the Captain went out on patrol with a substitute, when suddenly he was recalled from patrol because it was determined that the rogue pilot wasn't hungover but was genuinely sick. Feeling sorry for his wingmate he comes back to apologize but then finds out that the rogue really is a rogue and got..."

"Um, maybe the story wasn't a good idea," Starbuck groaned.

"I was kind of enjoying it," Athena said.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"I heard Aunt Athena is sick, just like Starbuck," Boxey looked up at the tall bridge officer.

"Yes, she is, that's why I volunteered to take you to the Orphan Ship," Omega told the child.

"And because you want to visit your boyfriend," Boxey nodded.

Omega smiled. Boxey might be adopted, but he was a lot like his father and grandfather. He always knew what was going on around him. Of course, his mother had been a quality journalist. "Yes, that too," Omega admitted.

"Cool! I want to play with the kids," Boxey finally seemed convinced that the trip was still on and ran to his quarters to get his stuff.

"I guess he doesn't mind going with me," Omega chuckled and went to follow.

As soon as they arrived, Noah ran up to Omega and right past him and Boxey. "Where's Athena?" he turned around and inquired when the named woman didn't appear behind them.

Omega eyes sought out the child's nanny and he motioned her over. "This is Athena's nephew Boxey. Boxey this is Noah," Omega stalled.

"Hi Noah," Boxey greeted the younger boy. "I live on the Galactica. It must be cool to live with all these other kids."

Noah appeared interested in the new boy, but his mind was still firmly fixed on his earlier question. "Hi. Where's Athena?"

"Noah, come sit down," Rette, his nanny motioned him to a seat.

"She's not coming," Noah said sullenly and reluctantly complied.

Rette waited until the boy was sitting and she kneeled before him. When he wouldn't look at her, she lifted his chin with her fingers. "Noah, Athena is not here because she is not feeling well. She really wanted to come."

"She's sick?" Noah's tone was a cross between relief and worry. "What's wrong with her?"

"Remember when you had to stay home from class and stay in bed a few sectars ago? It's like that. She should be fine in a few days," Rette finished explaining.

"Is that true?" Noah looked towards those he clearly labeled as better sources than his caretaker.

"Yes, Athena will be fine. She's just not allowed out of her bed for a few days," Omega concurred.

Noah looked skeptically at the adult before looking at Boxey.

"It's true," Boxey confirmed.

"She's going to die isn't she?" Noah asked in the matter-of-fact tone of a child who had already seen too much death and destruction.

"No, she's just not feeling well," Boxey shook his head. "But she promised she was going to bring me here today, so I came with Omega instead. Do you want to show me your toys? We don't have this many toys on the Galactica."

"Well, the warriors don't need so many toys as us," Noah explained and took Boxey by the hand and dragged him off.

"Do they all do that?" Omega asked.

"Disbelieve adults or think the worst? Yes, generally," Rette answered him. "He's very attached to Athena already."

"It's mutual," Omega told her.

<><><><><><><><><><>

[Life Center, Room 5]

Apollo walked into his wingmate's room and his eyes almost popped out at the scene before him.

Suddenly paranoid he looked behind him to make sure that Cass hadn't followed him, which considering the fact he had sneaked into that part of the Life Center was no surprise.

Breathing a sigh of relief Apollo turned his attention back to the sleeping pair as he tried to work out his feelings about the situation between them. He knew both of them so well and for so long that sometimes he worked more from his assumptions than the reality of a situation. Apollo was beginning to suspect that was how he had reacted to Athena and Starbuck's earlier relationship. Had he taken the easy way out and just accepted Starbuck's own hype?

Apollo had always been supportive of Starbuck's endeavor to appear carefree to those outside their close knit circle of friends, perhaps he forgot to see Starbuck as he knew him to really be, a sensitive and caring man, albeit a bit reckless and hot tempered?

And yet, Apollo cut himself some slack, he still had valid concerns for his sister's well-being to consider. It wasn't any misperception that Starbuck wasn't the settling down type he wanted for his sister. At least he hadn't been before Athena, though he had flirted with the idea briefly with Aurora.

Besides, what big brother wants his sister to date any man, especially one that brother knew had a casual attitude about sex.

As if silently contradicting Apollo's natural prejudices, Starbuck rolled over and put his other arm around Athena, effectively encircling her in his embrace.

Despite their denials Apollo couldn't help but feel responsible for Starbuck and Athena losing each other just when they needed each other the most. If he had allowed their relationship to develop naturally would they have been strong enough to hold onto each other when all else was lost as he and Serina had done? Seeing them like this he wished there was something he could do to fix the situation, but what about Cassiopeia, how could he interfere this time and hurt her too? She seemed to really care about Starbuck and visa versa. She also was good for him when he needed someone, but was there the making of a lifelong sealing? Looking at Athena and Starbuck now

The question was what could he do to give them a chance without hurting anyone?

He had found a way onto a basestar, he would find a way to do this too.

In the meantime, he had better get his sister out of that bed before Cassiopeia did find them.

Trying his best not to wake them, Apollo leaned over and began moving Starbuck's arm off of Athena. As soon as he slid his arms underneath her he knew that something was terribly wrong.

"Apollo?" Starbuck's hoarse voice impinged into his consciousness.

Apollo couldn't answer.

"Apollo what's wrong?" Starbuck sensed something was wrong and began to rise.

"She's burning up," Apollo looked at his friend, his face a mask of worry and concern.

"I'm sure..." Starbuck started to say until his hand settled on Athena's arm.

"I'm getting her to her room, call a med tech," Apollo ordered and clasping his sister to his chest he rushed back to the room he had found empty a few centons earlier.

A split centon later Cassie came rushing in followed closely by a slower moving Starbuck.

"What's wrong Apollo?" she asked.

"She's burning up. I think she's having trouble breathing and I can't wake her," Apollo said economically and moved aside.

Cassiopeia leaned over Athena for a few microns before pressing a button. A few microns later Doctor Salik entered. In the meantime Cassi had begun procedures to measure Athena's temperature.

Death not a far thing from their lives

"Forty point one, it was normal a centar ago," Cassi said and moved aside for Doctor Salik to perform his examination.

"My fever wasn't that high," Starbuck murmured to Apollo, who started at the sound of Starbuck's voice, not having realized he had entered the room.

"Starbuck, you shouldn't be out of bed," Cassi realized for the first time that her other patient was wandering from where he was expected to be.

"How is she," Starbuck waved away her solicitous attempt to assist him back to his room. With a sigh Cassi waved over another med tech who was waiting outside the room and a blanket was placed around his shoulders. Starbuck didn't even notice.

"It's not the illness, I think she's allergic to the control shot we gave her," Doctor Salik explained. "We'll stop the drug and put her on oxygen until the reaction passes. Until we find another control shot, however, we'll just have to keep her hydrated and watch her temperature, heart rate and glucose utilization. If it continues for too long or she begins exhibit serious symptoms, we'll have to find some other way to fight off the infection."

"Are you sure it's the shot?" Apollo asked.

"Almost certain Captain, Starbuck didn't display the same type or degree of symptoms," the doctor answered.

"Will she..." Apollo stopped and cleared his throat.

"Will she be all right?" Starbuck put a hand over Apollo's shoulder and asked for him.

"I'm sure she'll be fine. Once we identify the exact cause of the infection we'll be able to create something more specifically targeted and she'll be fine, as will the other patients. And since you're here we might as well test you Captain. You might have been clean before, but you came back here without proper precautions. Luckily we happen to have another spare room back here with your friends,"

Doctor Salik said with arched brows.

Apollo was too concerned for his sister to squirm under the authoritative scolding of the doctor.

"Sit with your sister for a while, we'll give you a control shot and test you in a little while. I'll contact your father," Salik said kindly before leaving the room.

"You go back to your room," Cassi put her hands on Starbuck's arms. "Let him be alone for a bit."

At her whispered plea Starbuck nodded, not taking his eyes off of Athena's prone form until Cassi manually turned him around and led him out of the room.

Apollo, oblivious to the activity behind him, sat down by his sister's side and brushed her hair back.

"I'm going to fix everything Brat, I promise. One way or anther big brother is going to make things better," he promised.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Multiplication? We just learned addition and subtraction," Noah looked up at Boxey in awe.

"I can teach you if you want?" Boxey offered his advanced knowledge with the deportment of royalty.

"Sure, then I can be ahead of the other kids my age," Noah said excitedly.

"They're getting along well," Caphis observed from across the room.

"A big relief, I was imagining having to deal with a very upset boy," Omega nodded.

"Well," Caphis' smile disappeared. "He's prone to bad dreams. I suspect we'll have those to deal with until he can see Athena. How is she doing?"

"She was fine when I left. Not happy about being confined to the Life Center, but not sick yet," Omega crossed his arms to keep from touching his lover in front of the children.

"Any chance she won't get sick?" Caphis smiled as he caught the pose's meaning.

"Not according to the Doctor," Omega shrugged.

"Well, for her sake and Noah's I hope they find the cause soon," Caphis turned to go back to his office, inviting Omega to follow with a silent glance.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"No! No! No!" the little boy screamed out in the dark room.

"Noah, wake up," Rette lay her hand on his back and gently shook him. "You're having a bad dream."

"No!" Noah screamed one more time before his eyes opened. "A dream?" he asked in his child's voice.

"Is Athena dead?"

"No, she's not. She's just sick remember?" Rette sat down.

"No, she's dead," Noah sat up and shook his head. "She died and you're all lying to me!" he finished in a yell.

Rette sighed and confirmed that the rest of the children had indeed woken up. "Come with me," Rette held out her hand.

"No! She's dead! I'm not going with a liar!" he started to cry.

Rette lifted the little boy into her arms and carried him to Caphis' office. As she expected, Caphis entered within a few centons and took in the sight before him.

"Noah? What's wrong?" he knelt down in front of Rette holding the boy.

"She's dead!" he continued to cry, his sobs getting stronger.

Caphis looked at Rette and mouthed "Athena." At her nod, he turned his attention back to the hysterical child. "Noah, Athena is not dead. She's just not feeling well. Her nephew told you that," he reminded him.

"No," Noah said between gasping sobs, "you're all lying to me. She promised to come," he hid his face in Rette's chest.

"Noah, we're not lying to you," Caphis told him.

"Then I want to call her!" he demanded.

"It's the middle of the night cycle, Noah. She's sleeping, we can't call her now," Caphis told him.

"Because she's dead!" he began to sob again.

Caphis and Rette looked at each other. Neither believed that Athena would be awake at this time or that the Life Center would consent to wake her. In fact, considering her virtual quarantine status, she might not have access to a comm.

"Would you believe it if a doctor told you that Athena was all right and just sleeping?" Caphis asked.

Noah thought for a while before looking at Caphis. "Maybe," he conceded.

'One small battle won," Caphis rose and moved to the comm. "This is Caphis from the Orphan Ship. Is Doctor Salik awake? Thank you."

"What can I do for you Caphis? I thought all of your children and staff were clean?" Doctor Salik's weary face appeared on the screen.

"No, everyone is fine. Well, almost. I have a little boy here who has had a nightmare and is convinced that Lieutenant Athena is no longer with us. There isn't any way we can speak to her now is there?" Caphis asked.

"No, she's sleeping. And there is no comm in her current quarters. Perhaps I can talk to this young man," Doctor Salik offered.

Caphis lifted Noah up and held him in front of the comm.

"I understand you're concerned about Athena. I'm Doctor Salik here on the Galactica and I can assure you that Athena is fine," he assured the little boy.

"Well, when can I see her?" Noah crossed his arms and looked at the Doctor dubiously. "Next cycle?"

"I can't promise you she'll be able to leave her room yet. What she has is contagious and we have to keep her isolated so that no one else will get sick too. But I will promise to get a message to you from her and to let her come to the comm to call you as soon as we can. Now I imagine, young man, that Athena wouldn't want you to miss anymore sleep on her account," Salik said as authoritatively as he could.

"Okay, and, uh, thank you," Noah looked sleepy again.

"You're welcome, young man. I will make sure that, when visitors are allowed, Caphis brings you to see her," Doctor Salik bit back a smile.

"Thank you," Noah called as Caphis put him back down.

"Thank you, Doctor," Caphis smiled at the elder man. After Rette had taken Noah out of the room, he proceeded to speak. "How is Athena?"

"She's had an allergic reaction to the control shot we gave her, but she'll be fine. She is in no condition right now to speak to anyone though. We expect she should be over the worst of the reaction by mid-cycle tomorrow and then we can assess how the infection is affecting her. We are still hoping that the new plants we've gotten can be synthesized into a more effective and safer shot," Doctor Salik revealed.

"Might she be allergic to that shot too?" Caphis asked.

"It's possible, but not likely. This would be very similar to one that I've given her before myself. It's these medications that we have in the Fleet right now that are the problem. All we really have left are the less desirable mixtures," Salik explained. "In fact, the scientists on the Science Ship were using this bacteria to test new medications. We have narrowed the cause down in the past centar and suspect that Lieutenant Starbuck touched something he shouldn't have when he was there yesterday."

"Since he's sick himself I'm sure that's lesson enough," Caphis shook his head. "He sounds like he should be living on our ship instead of yours."

"Except your children learn their lessons," Salik chuckled at his friend's quip.

"Isn't it well past your bed time, Doctor?" Caphis inquired with a smile.

"Go back to bed, Caphis," Salik chuckled again and cut off the connection.

Caphis turned off his comm and collapsed into a nearby chair.

"Sleep, what a plan."

<><><><><><><><><><>

Starbuck shifted around in his sleep, his hand feeling around over the empty space on the bed next to him. With his hand gripping the bed sheet he was startled from his sleep. With a sigh his head settled back onto the pillow and he stretched himself out to fill the bed. Assuming Athena had long gone back to her own room Starbuck closed his eyes and burrowed into the pillow and began to drift back to sleep. As the darkness began to steal over his senses the low tones of someone outside his room seeped into his consciousness.

"...Athena is dead," he heard in a hushed tone.

The darkness that was about to steal over him abruptly receded and in its wake was a heart stopping darkness that he had grown all too accustomed too over the past yahren. It was the dark, blank that came the moment you realize that you had lost a piece of your world. It wasn't too different than the hole you might find in a worn, but well loved blanket.

You sleep cycle after cycle encircled by the fabric, eventually the fabric becomes your guardian against the cold and the bad dreams, then suddenly there is place for the cold to seep in and the bad dreams to escape. But the blanket has served you well so you spend time mending those little holes and continue to use the blanket in the vulnerable moments. Life at war with the Cylons was like that blanket. One by one people would disappear from your squadron or your ship. But sometimes the holes didn't appear slowly and they couldn't be mended. Starbuck had experienced that twice in his life.

The first was when he lost his family and he became an orphan, the second was when the Destruction occurred.

Instead of mending the holes he had started a whole new blanket. The first time he had been a little child and actually forgot what had kept him safe and warm for the first few yahrens of his life. This time he grasped the blanket so tightly that it tore apart forcing him to build a whole new life. Again, he forgot the life that had come before, or at least he tried.

Over the past sectars pieces of the old fabric of his life floated past, just beyond his reach, reminding him of the life that had gone before.

Aurora

Chameleon

Carybdis

Now Athena.

As his heart pounded beneath his breast the memories he had pushed away all those sectars ago as he stormed out of the locker room came back in a rush.

A laugh.

The feel of soft skin.

A scent.

The tickle of hair.

A surge of desire.

The rush of affection.

Unbidden, tears streamed down Starbuck's hot cheeks falling on the blanket clutched in his trembling hands.

The sound of his name caught his attention.

"Starbuck...bacteria from the Science Ship..." another voice said.

"No!" Starbuck howled into the darkness.

"Lieutenant? Are you all right?" one of the voices came closer in the darkness.

"No!" he exclaimed as his forced his body through the thickness that surrounded him.

"You have to stay in bed," the voice told him.

Ignoring the hands trying to hold him back he stood up.

"Where do you think you're going?" Cassiopeia asked him.

Cassi! She would understand.

"Athena," he turned towards her voice and forced himself to see her.

"Are you having a bad dream?" Cassi took over for the other med tech and placed her hands on Starbuck's arms.

"Show me Athena," Starbuck clutched her hands and pled with her.

"Maybe he's delirious?"

"He must have had a bad dream," Cassi disagreed with her co-worker, he wasn't feeling warm enough.

"Hand me that blanket," she asked.

Distantly, Starbuck could feel Cassi pulled the blanket around his shoulders.

A few centons later he found himself standing by Athena's bedside.

"She's...she's alive," Starbuck felt lightheaded.

With a worried frown on her face she pressed Starbuck's unresisting body onto a chair and knelt down in front of him.

"I thought she was dead. I thought I killed her," Starbuck's tears were still slipping unheeded down his cheek. Now they were a cleansing relief.

"That must have been some dream," Cassi smiled up at him as she brushed his cheeks and took him into her embrace.

"It wasn't a dream. When everything else died I killed her," he said nonsensically, at least it seemed that way to Cassiopeia.

"You should be resting. Let's get you back to bed," Cassi stood up.

"No, I won't be able to sleep," Starbuck took a deep, cleansing breath and leaned back on the chair. The trembling in his body began to recede and he grabbed hold of the present. "Just let me stay here for a bit?" A charming smile accompanied his request.

Either Cassi was eased by the characteristic expression or she recognized the stubborn set of his chin. In either case she nodded and promised that she would give him ten centons and then she would be back to take him back to his room.

As soon as he heard the door closing behind him, Starbuck moved forward in the chair and let the blanket drop down his back. With a compulsion he couldn't begin to explain his right hand reached out and clasped Athena's arm. The feel of her hot skin shot through him and warmed his entire body.

Not letting go, but smoothly enough not to awaken her, Starbuck stood and settled onto the bed next to her.

Even in the semi-darkness Starbuck could see Athena's face clearly. What his eyes could not see his memory filled in. What his hands didn't touch it remembered. What his lips didn't press against, his tongue could still taste. What he had never had, his imagination supplied.

How had he allowed himself to forget? Why had he made himself forget?

So as to not endure what he had endured only ten centons ago.

But now he had and it wasn't real and now he could remember. Everything. Including the past yahren where he had done all he could to avoid his biggest terror - loving and losing. But this time it was supplemented by regrets. A yahren of regrets.

Or perhaps more time than that?

A smile broke through as he remembered one cycle not too long before the Destruction.

<<Flaunting regulations, of course, Starbuck had pulled together a pyramid game in the Red Squadron barracks. Feigning duty, or illness, he couldn't remember what excuse he had used, Starbuck had broken a date with Athena. A centar later, feeling as if he had gotten away with something, making sure no one who might tell Athena saw him Starbuck made his way to the Red Squadron barracks.

Rubbing his hands together in anticipation of trying out his new system. This one, he was sure, couldn't fail. He had been working on it for sectars. Just that day during patrol he was sure he had figured out the piece that had been alluding him. That was why he was so impatient that he canceled his date and scheduled the game instead.

When he entered the Barracks he smelled the scent of Boomer's special fumarellos and his grin widened. Patting his pocket of cubits Starbuck made his way towards the hidden corner of the barracks and announced his arrival.

"About time Starbuck, thought you might have canceled on us."

Starbuck's steps faltered and his composure broke. Then his eyes widened.

Obviously well into play, Athena was sitting at the table with a perfect pyramid in her palms and one of Boomer's special fumarellos hanging out of the side of her mouth.

Unable to resist the cards, Starbuck moved closer. Excited, jealous and panicked at all the same time, Starbuck looked at the cards and then at Athena.

Athena looked up at him.

On her face was his impish grin, complete with a fumarello. It was her rosy cheeks and her sparkling eyes that assured him that he wasn't looking at himself. That and the decidedly feminine hands holding the most beautiful cards he had ever seen. Heck, the entire package was beautiful.

An answering smile broke across his face before he threw his head back and laughed. He bet she didn't even have a system.

>>

How had he forgotten times like that with her? He had almost never canceled a date with her after that just to gamble.

"Time to get back to bed," Cassi's voice interrupted. "Glad to see you're looking more relaxed."

Feeling Cassi's professional, yet personal, touch on his shoulders he didn't feel relaxed, except that now the rioting in his stomach wasn't due to any microscopic life form. No, this was caused by fear. Now that his life before the Destruction had suddenly forced its way out of his subconscious, he was afraid to look at the new.

Refusing to give in the fears he could articulate, Starbuck forced himself to turn around and look at Cassi. So he looked at the woman who was such a large part of his life and had been since his old life had fell apart. As he tenderly studied her features. The endless IFB and military lectures on grief and post-traumatic stress. In truth, he realized, she had been a healer long before she donned the white robe. She had healed him in a way that he knew no one and nothing else could have.

Cassi had been the one person who had the capacity to provide Starbuck with the lightness he needed to deal with the losses without drowning. While everyone else was caught up in trying to rise above the choking depths of their own grief, Cassi's life had actually been made better by the Destruction. Once Starbuck saved her she was able to put the stigma of being a socialator behind her and become a person with a respectable career. And despite her oft-repeated avowals regarding the noble nature of her former career she hadn't returned to it when given the option. What a grand life she could have had on the Rising Star amongst the rich and infamous. And yet, her training had served them well. She knew just what he had needed. They had saved each other.

But was there more to the relationship than that? Was there really forever?

The memory of their encounter before he left for the baseship slid into his mind and slapped him in the face. But before he could give it any more thought he found himself being pressed down onto his bed and Cassi was out the door.

Letting his head sink into the cushion, Starbuck closed his eyes and let exhaustion turn his racing mind off.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Where's Cassi?" Starbuck asked the Med Tech who arrived early in the first cycle to give him a control shot.

"She's off duty now. This shot should take care of this within the next centar. They isolated the bacteria and found out how it was spread," Mairi, one of the med techs, said matter-of-factly.

"Oh?" Starbuck swallowed and smiled weakly.

"Doctor Wilker is trying to get you banned from the Science ship," she told him.

"Ah, oh," Starbuck cleared his throat, remembering the innocuous looking containers he had knocked off a table in a lab on the Science Ship when he was waiting for Cassi a couple of days ago. A lab he wasn't supposed to be in and containers he should have been inspecting, come to that.

"Does Cass know?" he asked.

"Yes, she found out while you were still asleep and she didn't want to wake you until the shot was ready," she told him.

"Has it been given to Athena?" he asked.

"Yes, she should be fine in a few centars," Mairi assured him.

"It'll take longer because she was sicker?" he asked.

"Because she was earlier into the symptoms and because of the allergic reaction to the first shot her symptoms were more severe, but she'll be fine," Maira told him.

"You, uh, wouldn't happen to know how the bacteria is transmitted?" Starbuck asked a centon later.

"Through bodily fluids, it's not airborne," Mairi looked at him meaningfully.

"So when can I get sprung?" he asked.

"I'll check you in a centar and if you're clean I'll kick you out," she smiled at the man she too had once had a few dates with.

"Great," he sighed and flopped back onto the bed. "Might as well take advantage of the rest while I can then."

<><><><><><><><><><>

"I hear you're going to go free soon," Apollo walked into his wingmate's room. "And I hear that there's some wonderings about how my sister managed to catch this from you."

Starbuck cleared his throat, but for once didn't make any wiseass remarks. It was the Commander's daughter and Apollo's sister they were referring to.

"So, are you planning to tell me how this happened?" Apollo seemed calm.

"Not really," Starbuck said hopefully. At Apollo's dark look he sighed. "Cassi probably figured it out."

"Figured out what?" Apollo prompted.

"I kissed Athena at Boomer's party," Starbuck finally admitted.

"Why?" Apollo asked.

Starbuck looked at his friend in askance.

"Why?" Starbuck repeated. "Aren't you going to threaten to demote me or something?"

"Of all the things I could have demoted you for do you really think I would demote you because you kissed my sister?" Apollo snorted.

"It wouldn't be the first time," Starbuck reminded him with a grin.

"Starbuck," Apollo became serious. "I meant it when I apologized for misjudging you. What you do about or with my sister is between the two of you. Of course, if you hurt her I will kill you."

Starbuck's grin faded and he looked away.

"What's wrong?" Apollo asked.

"I've already hurt her and Cass," Starbuck admitted.

"What are you going to do about it?" Apollo asked.

"Hope to hades she'll forgive me," Starbuck said.

"Which one?" Apollo asked.

"Both," Starbuck replied.

"Then what?" Apollo asked.

"I'll volunteer for some damn fool mission," Starbuck snorted. "You didn't happen to bring me a uniform did you?"

<><><><><><><><><><>

"I want to see Athena first," Apollo told Starbuck as he led his fully dressed wingmate out of his former detention cell.

"I'll meet you there then," Starbuck glanced down the corridor nervously.

"It'll only take a centon," Apollo cajoled.

"I'll wait out here then," Starbuck straightened his jacket. It wasn't like he was in that much of a rush to leave the relative safety of the quarantine section of the Life Center. Cass still hadn't come to see him, but Starbuck knew from her coworkers that she had already come on duty that cycle.

"I'm not going to force you," Apollo told him before entering his sister's room.

Starbuck looked at the door Apollo disappeared behind for a centon before letting out a puff air and leaning back against the wall. Starbuck closed his eyes and leaned his head back. In a few centons he was going to have to face Cassiopeia and no amount of cajoling or rascally grins were going to be enough to make up to her his betrayal. The fact that his kissing Athena was a betrayal wasn't something he would try and deny. Not this time and not now. He and Cass had been through too much and they had agreed not to see other people and here he was kissing someone else. And thinking about someone else, a lot.

"Starbuck, are you all right?"

"Sure, oh hi Boxey," Starbuck opened his eyes and looked down at Apollo's son.

"I was afraid you were still sick," Boxey craned his neck to look up at his favorite "uncle."

"Nah, just waiting for your father to finish talking to your Aunt Athena," Starbuck grinned.

"Yeah, they're talking about something," Boxey shrugged. "I wanted to introduce you to Noah, Noah this is my friend Starbuck."

"Hello," Noah looked up at the warrior, his eyes wide with awe.

Starbuck looked down at the blue-eyed, blond-haired boy looking up at him with a curious eyes. "So, this is the boy that seemed to have captured Athena's heart," he thought to himself.

"Hi Noah, nice to meet you," Starbuck knelt down and shook the boy's hand.

"I've seen you play Triad, we always root for your team," Noah shook his hand formally.

"I've been teaching Noah multiplication," Boxey interjected.

"That will come in handy when you're adding up your pyramid winnings," Starbuck winked at Boxey who he had taught to play the game when his father wasn't looking.

"I don't know how to play pyramid," Noah's face dropped and he looked disappointed.

"I could teach you. I taught Boxey here and you couldn't find a better teach than me. Right kid?" Starbuck asked Boxey for confirmation.

"Nope, everyone says that Starbuck is a great player, although they don't trust his systems much," Boxey sort of endorsed the warrior.

"Would you really teach me to play pyramid?" Noah's mouth widened into an "o."

"Sure, why not," Starbuck shrugged.

"When?" Noah asked. "You could come visit with Athena when she's all better?"

Starbuck paused for a moment. "Or I could come myself so that we can concentrate. Boxey could come with me," Starbuck suggested.

"Sure, I can give you a few pointers too," Boxey nodded.

"Cool!" Noah shook Starbuck's hand again.

Starbuck suddenly felt lighter being the recipient of the little boy's uncomplicated exuberance. "Now I understand what has Athena so enthralled," he thought to himself.

"Listen, as soon as my mean boss here gives me some time off I'll grab Boxey and we'll, uh, do you know what," Starbuck winked conspiratorially and then looked up at Apollo with an innocent expression on his face.

"Do you really think I'm going to let you loose on a ship full of children just waiting for you to corrupt them," Apollo stuck his hands on his hips and looked at his friend knowingly.

"Certainly not, that's why Boxey is chaperoning. "Don't worry about him, I know how to get around him," Starbuck chuckled and placed his hand on Noah's hand and ruffled the child's hair.

"We'll watch out for him," Caphis came up behind Starbuck.

"Can I still go inside?" Caphis asked after the men had finished greeting each other.

"She's a bit tired, but she was still awake when I left a few centons ago," Apollo assured him.

"Let's go say goodbye to Athena, we have to get back for classes," Caphis took Noah's hand.

"Starbuck is going to come visit me," Noah told Caphis excitedly about his new friend.

"That's great. You're welcome anytime Lieutenant. Let me warn you though, you have quite a following among the Triad fans," Caphis said.

"So Noah was telling me," Starbuck preened.

"I'm sure he can handle the attention," Apollo said dryly.

"How is she?" Starbuck asked quietly after Caphis and Noah entered Athena's room.

"A lot better than she was when I found her earlier," Apollo looked at Starbuck meaningfully.

Starbuck just looked at Apollo for a few microns before, certain he had understood his friend correctly. So Apollo had found Athena in his bed. He supposed it could have been worse. He could have found them in bed back when something could have been going on. Or Cassi could have found them.

At the thought of Cassi and Athena he tensed.

"I left something in my room. I'll go get it and meet you in the Rejuvenation Center," Starbuck told them before rushing back down the corridor. He arrived at Athena's door just as Caphis and Noah were exiting. After taking a few microns to say a proper goodbye to the little boy and his chaperone and to reaffirm his commitment to visit, Starbuck entered Athena's room.

"You look terrible!" Starbuck exclaimed when he saw Athena's pale, drawn face.

"What happened to your womanizing skills?" Athena asked tiredly, but with a trace of humor.

"Are you kidding? I seem to have left them in the last sector of space we visited," Starbuck snorted and sat himself down on Athena's bedside.

"You obviously didn't come in her to look at my beautiful face, so why are you here?" Athena asked after shifting uncomfortably in response to his nearness.

"Cassi knows," he said quietly. "I thought I should warn you. It's the least I could do."

Athena closed her eyes and lay silently for a centon.

"What am I supposed to say to her?" she finally opened her eyes and asked.

"I don't even know what I'm supposed to say to her," Starbuck admitted.

"Of all the permutations of our future I ever imagined, this wasn't one of them," Athena told him.

"Me either. What did you imagine?" Starbuck asked.

"Don't worry, you lived in some of them," Athena answered evasively with a shrug. "What did you imagine?"

"Well," Starbuck drawled and lifted an eyebrow lecherously.

"I had to ask," Athena laughed.

"I like it when you laugh," Starbuck said in a abruptly serious tone.

"That's not going to help here," Athena said.

"Sorry, it's kind of how we ended up here," Starbuck agreed.

"I promised myself I wasn't going to ask this, but why did we end up here?" Athena picked at her blanket and avoided looking Starbuck in the face.

Starbuck watched her hand, seemingly mesmerized by its mechanical movements. After a few centons he shook himself out of the trance-like state and looked into her face.

"You don't just mean the kiss do you?" he asked.

"No, I guess I don't," Athena admitted.

A few microns later, when Starbuck didn't seem able to answer Athena held her hand up, her palm facing him. "Forget it. It doesn't matter. I really hate that you put me in this position. I can't even face her. Talk about turn about," Athena laughed with a tinge of bitterness this time.

"For what it's worth, I'm sorry," Starbuck said.

"You make it really hard for me to be your friend sometimes," Athena said sadly.

"I know I do. It didn't used to be like this did it? It used to be easy between us," Starbuck said.

"Yeah, it did," Athena nodded, her eyes full of remembering of what it was that had led them to this place. The Destruction and rebuffed proposals made out of desperation.

"I never told that I did love you. I heard you telling Apollo that you thought I never did, but I did. I'm sorry I didn't say it," Starbuck said.

"Me too," Athena said as tears filled her eyes and threatened to spill over onto her cheeks.

Starbuck felt his chest tighten at the world of regret he saw reflected back at him in Athena's eyes.

"I'm going to talk to her now, I'll make her understand this wasn't your fault. I forced myself on you," Starbuck stood up and distanced himself from Athena and her reflected pain.

Athena just nodded and looked away.

Starbuck stood looking at her silently for a moment. "I always run away, don't I?" he asked himself before he turned and left.

<><><><><><><><><><>
[Rejuvenation Center]

"I thought Starbuck was being let out?" Sheba asked Apollo.

"He had to take care of something. He'll probably meet us here," Apollo told his girlfriend. He looked around the room before leaning over and pressing a kick kiss against her cheek. He smiled wider as he recognized the amused grin on her face as being due to his restrained public greeting. Well, he figured, she could be amused since his private greeting was a lot more...exuberant.

"Cassi came to see me before she went on duty," Sheba wasn't smiling when she told Apollo that bit of information in an undertone.

"What did she say?" Apollo asked.

"That they discovered where the infection was caused by and where it likely came from and how that particular organism isn't airborne. She isn't too happy with your friend right now and I can't say I blame her. Not that I blame Athena either, I know she genuinely likes Jack. What a mess," Sheba shook her head.

"Things around Starbuck usually are messy," Apollo observed.

"So Starbuck really kissed her?" Sheba asked.

"Yeah, he did," Apollo confirmed.

"I really thought that he and Cassi would make it work," Sheba was disappointed.

"Do you think she would have chosen Starbuck over Cain if Cain hadn't made her leave the Pegasus?" Apollo asked softly, keeping a keen eye on Sheba's reaction to his bringing up her father. He was relieved of his worry a few microns later when it appeared that Sheba was glad to be able to discuss her missing father.

"No offense to Starbuck, but I don't see how she could. But nonetheless, they have been together ever since and it was serious, at least for Cassi," Sheba looked at Apollo questioningly.

"I never saw Starbuck this serious before, but I think we both know how unfair I've been in the past," Apollo said.

"Your sister didn't realize he was as serious as you think he was either. Maybe he's just running scared from commitment and your sister was handy?" Sheba conjectured.

"It's possible, but..." Apollo shook his head as he watched Boxey play scurry with a friend. "I just have this..this feeling that Starbuck isn't as over Athena as he would like us to believe. You didn't see his expression or hear his voice when we were arguing about her. He might be scared, but he wasn't too scared to make it and he wouldn't so cavalierly break a commitment he's made."

"Do you really do believe he still loves Athena or do you just feel guilty for spoiling things for them?" Sheba asked.

"No," Apollo shook his head confidently.

Sheba studied him for a moment.

"Then we might have a bigger mess than I anticipated," she finally said.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Breathing. The loud sound of breathing.

Scenery was rushing by too fast to be able to tell what it was.

Fear. Terror.

"Mamma," the young voice cried out. "Mamma, where are you Mamma?"

Suddenly the scene slowed.

Destruction. Metal shards. Broken glass.

Blood flowing from small feet onto the mess.

A flash of blond hair.

"Mamma? Papa? Where are you?"

A glimpse of blue eyes filled with tears and terror.

Athena woke up with a gasp.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"That's okay, I feel terrible," Athena shrugged back at him. "Did you meet Noah?"

"Yeah, he's a great kid. Really cute and smart," Starbuck nodded.

"He really is. He's so amazing. Sometimes I have to remind myself that he's only five yahrens old," her eyes sparkled as she looked at Starbuck. "He's been through so much, all of the children have. I feel guilty, but I have to admit he's my favorite. There's just something about him."

Starbuck took in Athena's glowing face. Even in the darkened room he could see the animation that talking about the little orphan boy brought to her face. "He has your eyes," Starbuck's own blue eyes widened at the words. That was not what he had intended to say.

Athena looked at him in surprise. "Funny you should say that," she looked down at her hands.

"Well, not all that funny," Starbuck grimaced. "What do you mean?"

"You'll laugh at me," she peered up at him from under her lashes.

"I'm wearing a dress and you're worried about me laughing at you?" Starbuck picked at his covering.

Athena raised her eyebrows appreciatively as she took in his appearance. "You know I should feel like murdering you," she shook her head.

"I am a charmer," he winked. "Tell me what you're thinking," he encouraged her. When she was too embarrassed to tell him, the master of schemes and plans, what was on her mind, he knew it was going to be good.

"I've been thinking about adopting Noah," she said softly. "I know it seems crazy," she looked at him, her face completely serious. "We've only known each other a few sectons, but from the first micron I saw him..." she trailed off, unable to explain the deep attachment she felt from the moment she looked at his face. "He slipped his hand into mine and I melted," she chuckled. "I know I sound like I fell in love, but in a way I have. Do you think I'm crazy?"

Starbuck sat back in his chair, for the first time since he entered the room feeling each and every ache in his body. Briefly he amused himself with the idea that she was just delirious from the fever she was still suffering from. Adoption? As with any orphan, the word resonated very deeply within him. Starbuck himself had never been adopted, mainly, he had come to admit, because he had feared the rejection so much, he had made himself as disagreeable as possible with every prospective parent. Still, a part of him felt the same twist of jealousy inside that he had felt when another of his peers would begin packing his meager belongings.

Athena adopting, he brought his mind firmly back to the present. The idea was so unexpected that he didn't know what to say. Somehow she had always remained a young girl in his eyes, despite the obvious physical attributes that had begun to attract him when she had arrived on board yahrens ago. He studied her now as if she were a stranger. There were shadows in her eyes that he had never noticed before. Shadows everyone who had survived the Destruction exhibited. Yet, in his mind, Athena had always remained untouched by the events. Even her features were different than the image imprinted in his mind. The features of her face were leaner and more mature. Even in the middle of the night cycle and ill, she held herself with a grace and confidence that he had somehow missed the development of. To him she was still the rash young girl who chased after "her man" in competition with Cass.

'That was practically a yahren ago,' he realized. So was she crazy? Was she using a little boy to fill a void in her life? How could he know, he couldn't even say if he knew her anymore. The realization shook him to the bone. Suddenly the peace her presence brought him seemed threatened.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"But you are not cleared for duty yet. And if I hear that you're doing something you shouldn't, I'll have you brought right back here. You still need to rest and recover, mostly from the allergic reaction. One more day young lady, promise me," Doctor Salik ordered.

"Yes, Doctor," Athena barely stopped herself from standing at attention at the militant tone.

"You understand that your father will have both our heads if you have a relapse," Salik continued to try and impress upon the sometimes reckless young woman the importance of resting.

"I know, he told me when he visited earlier," Athena agreed and was relieved when Salik had little more to say before setting her free.

"Athena, may I speak to you for a centon before you leave?"

Cassiopeia.

Athena had been dreading this meeting for centars. She hoped that the "meeting" wouldn't turn into a "confrontation." Despite her preparation, Athena didn't feel anymore prepared for this than she had been for Starbuck's seduction in the Officer's Club. Nodding her assent Athena followed Cassi into an empty office.

"Starbuck told me what happened. I haven't asked you to talk so that I can lay blame or punish you, but we need to clear this up between us in order to move on," Cassiopeia said without preface once they were alone. "I just have one question. Did you kiss him to get back at me for stealing him from you?"

"What?" Athena's jaw dropped in shock.

"I didn't think so, but I wanted you to be certain of it too. Starbuck told me that he kissed you, I don't hold you responsible. Of course, Jack might not let you off so easily, but we stopped letting Starbuck come between us a long time ago," Cassi said.

"Cass, I wasn't completely...unmoved," Athena flushed as she confessed.

"I'm not surprised, I find myself moved by the man quite a bit myself," Cassi sounded philosophical.

"I truly am sorry Cassi," Athena said earnestly.

"I know you are. Starbuck is too. I believe you," Cassi said.

"Can you forgive him?" Athena asked.

"I can forgive him," Cassi responded.

"But?" Athena prompted.

"I also understand him," Cassi said cryptically. "Starbuck and I will work things out. Don't worry on my account."

"For what it's worth I admire you. I don't think I could be as understanding," Athena offered.

"But you were," Cassi said quietly.

"I know a certain steam purge victim who says otherwise," Athena said with a raised eyebrow and a cynical smile before turning and leaving.

"So who gets burned this time?" Cassi asked the closing door.

<><><><><><><><><><>
[2 Days Later
Cassiopeia's Quarters]

"Stop," Cassiopeia held a hand up. "I said I'm not ready to talk to you."

"Will you at least listen to me then?" Starbuck pleaded.

"Go ahead," Cassi sat down on in the chair, leaving Starbuck no chance of sitting next to her.

"I want to know how you feel," Starbuck paused meaningfully, convinced that if he asked to discuss "feelings" she'd see how important she was to him. She didn't take the bait. "But I'll tell you how I feel instead."

"Why don't you do that Starbuck. That's what I've spent the last couple of days trying to figure out," Cassi said.

"I can see why you might question how much I care about you and how serious I am about the commitment we made to not see other people, but I want you to know that you don't have to worry. What happened with Athena at the party was an aberration, probably due to illness, and I don't mean that as a joke," he was trying to be completely sincere. "I can't explain it, but it won't happen again."

"How can you promise it won't happen again if you don't even understand what made you do it?" Cassi asked gently.

Flushing Starbuck turned away.

"Were there any others?" Cassi asked.

"No one but Athena and I also kissed her before she went on that mission the other day," he confessed quietly. He hadn't told her earlier when he had confessed to the kiss at Boomer's party and it had been bothering his conscience ever since. So now there were two physical encounters with Athena he couldn't explain and both were a lot more than mere kissing. Shamefully, he felt the burning of arousal in the pit of his stomach as he thought about it now.

"Twice," Cassi's eyes narrowed.

"Do you still love her?" Cassi asked.

"Love Athena?" Starbuck hedged.

"She loves you you know," Cassi said almost conversationally. "I can see that you did."

"That doesn't mean I...I...feel the same way," Starbuck said sharply. "You know that I love you."

"You care about me a great deal, I know that. I know that you love me, but I don't know if you love me in the same way as you love her. There's a lot of history there Starbuck and I haven't forgotten how it was when we got together," Cassi had stood up while she was speaking and she was now standing close to Starbuck looking into his eyes. Close enough that her stiff tan dress touched his uniform where it flared out at the bottom.

"You want me right now," Cassi whispered huskily. "I could touch you and make you make love to me now." So saying Cassi reached out and slid her hand to cup Starbuck's neck. His nostrils flared as he took in her scent. A tear slid down Cassi cheek as she pressed her lips against his and initiated a soul searching kiss.

Starbuck's hands came around her body and pressed her hips against his arousal.

"Pretend I'm her, pretend I'm Athena," Cassi ordered into his mouth.

Starbuck gasped as Cassi pulled his hair to urge him to comply.

Eyes closed, Starbuck's hands skimmed up her back. His hips moved restlessly against hers. Her fingers slid under his tunic and over the bare skin of his back causing him to shiver.

Abruptly Cassi pushed him away.

"Get out!" she turned away as she ordered.

Starbuck stood looking at her back as he swallowed convulsively and searched for something to say. Finding nothing Starbuck obliged her request and left.

Cassi's shoulders shook as soon as the door could be heard closing.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Nice sight," Caphis observed.

"Usually, yes," Rette said to the man who had come up behind her as she watched Athena read to the children, with Noah plastered to her side.

"I hate to see him go too," Caphis understood.

<><><><><><><><><><>
[Next day]

"So how long has it been since you've spoken to Cassi?" Apollo's voice came over the comm.

"Since I was released from the Life Center," Starbuck admitted, squirming uncomfortably in his viper.

"Three days I guess. She's been spending a lot of time at the Science Ship," Starbuck excused lamely. "Have you talked to her?"

"No, but Sheba has," Apollo admitted. "Did you know she spoke to Athena about what happened?"

"No, but I'm not surprised. What did Cass tell Sheba," Starbuck asked.

"Sheba wouldn't tell me, she just said that Cassi wanted some time to think," Apollo was apologetic.

"Can't say I blame her," Starbuck mumbled.

"So how do you feel?" Apollo asked.

"I've been fine for days," Starbuck was confused.

"Not physically. What are you going to do about Cassi and Athena," Apollo asked.

"I'm going to wait until Cassi...I don't know, I don't know what to do," Starbuck sighed.

"Which one do you love?" Apollo asked.

"I...I don't know," Starbuck admitted.

"You should figure it out before Cassi is ready to speak to you again. Have you talked with Athena?" Apollo asked.

"Athena. I think she still loves me," Starbuck felt the words out on his tongue. Did he really believe that? It was one thing to say it to Athena, it was another to feel it deep in his bones. His self confidence didn't go that deep, not about being loved for himself. She had once, but did she still or was he seeing something that wasn't there? Maybe it was actually pity in her eyes? Apollo could be wrong about his sister, it wouldn't be the first time.

"Talk to her," Apollo urged.

Starbuck calibrated his scans as he considered Apollo's advice. He needed to find out if Athena loved him and the only way to do that was to talk to the woman herself.

"And if she does?" he asked himself, but he had no answer.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Have a good sleep Tiren," Athena wished the man who was just getting off the communications console.

"Thanks Athena. Things have been pretty quiet. Starbuck and Apollo are on patrol. Long range starts next cycle," he advised.

"Thanks Tiren," she hooked her headphones into the panel. "Who's on the roster for long range this time?"

"Boomer and Jolly and Dietra and Brie. Then Sheba and Bojay and Starbuck and Apollo. Two cycles each patrol, at least," Tigh answered.

"We enter the new system ourselves in...another day," Athena studied the data on her screen. "Hiller and Prina are also out now, I see."

"We doubled up because we're so close to the new system," Tigh confirmed.

Athena nodded and turned her concentration to making sure the scans were still properly calibrated and towards the active patrols's communications.

"Nothing to report here from Blue Patrol One," Athena heard Apollo's voice in her ear.

"Good to hear, Captain," Athena told her brother.

"Good to hear you as well, Lieutenant," Apollo responded.

"I'm receiving your scan data now," she confirmed. "All parameters within normal. Three more centars scheduled. See you on the home side."

"Oh brother," everyone on the bridge heard Starbuck mumble before signing off in response to Athena's use of pilot jargon.

"Good job keeping the pilots' spirits up, Lieutenant," Commander Adama called out to the amusement of the bridge crew.

Athena grinned, but didn't respond.

 

 

 

<><><><><><><><><><>
Stand up, don't you fall.
You just take good care of where you are.
You're thinking life's thru with you.
That's not what he'd want or what you should do.
<><><><><><><><><><>
Chapter 6 - Parenthood
<><><><><><><><><><>

"Come on Starbuck it will be fun," Apollo coaxed his friend. "You need a break after the long ranges we just endured."

"Real fun, being a third wing with you and Sheba. Come on Apollo, it's embarrassing. It will look like I can't get my own date!" Starbuck disagreed with his friend's suggestion.

"Starbuck, just because Cassi is busy doesn't mean you have to sit in the barracks alone and mope. We'll have a good time at the Rising Star. If Sheba and I want to be alone, we'll let you know, okay?" Apollo pressed on.

"Only if you promise to tell me to get lost if you want to be alone...and stuff," Starbuck tentatively agreed.

"Definitely," Apollo smirked.

"Are you sure Sheba is all right with this?" Starbuck asked one more time.

"Sheba will be thrilled," Apollo assured him.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"I don't want him sitting in the barracks feelings sorry for himself," Apollo whispered pleadingly at Sheba.

"I don't either, but I thought this was our cycle to finally be alone," Sheba looked over at the warrior waiting uncomfortably at the other end of the corridor. "It's fine. We'll have a good time."

Apollo breathed a sigh of relief and followed her towards Starbuck.

"Glad you're coming along," Sheba linked her arm with Starbuck's.

"I bet," Starbuck gave her a knowing look. "Apollo promised that you two would tell me to get lost when...you...uh... when you want," he trailed off lamely.

"I promise you Lieutenant, we will," Sheba said sincerely.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"You look lovely and healthy," Jack commented as soon as he caught sight of Athena.

"Thanks, I think?" she winked.

"I thought we might have a drink before Caphis and Omega meet up with us," Jack suggested, unperturbed by the sensitive topic.

"Sounds like a great idea. I could use an altered nectar," Athena smiled and slipped her arm into the proffered crook of Jack's arm.

As they waited for their drinks to be served, Athena crossed her legs and looked around the bar. As expected, the fleet inhabitants were out in large numbers celebrating their so-far uneventful entrance into the new sectar. This one was much larger than the last, however, and there were many more sectons for adventure and mishap. Nonetheless, nothing was going to prevent the Colonials from taking advantage of every small meterpassing.

"Here," Jack slipped a sweet drink into her hand. "To our returned health and the coming cycle together."

"Cheers," Athena echoed his sentiment and touched her cup to his.

"I love how that dress brings out the color of your eyes and I don't think I've ever seen you with your hair up before," Jack commented as he admired the slope of her neck leading to her blue dress. His fingers reached out and traced her creamy skin.

Athena felt a shiver travel down her spine and she could feel her nipples harden at his sensuous touch. Her pupils dilated and she moistened her now-dry lips as Jack stared into her eyes.

His fingers trailed down her collarbone, not stopping until they reached the slope of her breast. From the look in his eyes Athena could tell he noticed her arousal and that he returned it.

Before she could think of anything to say, her drink was taken from her hand and she allowed herself to be led to the dance floor.

Their bodies connected as Jack slid his arms around her body. He rested a hand on her bare neck and the other rested on her lower back. Athena's breathing became even more shallow as she felt her hardened nipples pressing into his solid chest and the evidence of his answering arousal pressing into her stomach.

Athena felt a flood of moisture between her legs and she wished they were alone.

Jack's breath lightly touched her ear and Athena slid one hand into his dark hair. Her other rested on his shoulder.

"I do want you," he murmured.

"I want you, too," she admitted with some relief as she pressed herself more firmly against his body. She wasn't sure she could be aroused by anyone but Starbuck anymore. The realization made everything more heady than it might have been otherwise. Perhaps she wasn't as hopeless as she had feared just a few sectons ago.

They moved slowly to the music, parting reluctantly only when it was truly over.

"We'd better go meet them," Athena said after taking a few calming sips of her drink. As the altered liquid flowed through her body, she felt the urgency of her desire recede. Carefully she put the drink down on the bar and put her hand out to Jack. "Come on."

Jack took her hand and they began to leave when suddenly they heard Athena's name being called.

"Uh, hi Apollo," Athena flushed as she faced her brother and his companions. "Hi Sheba, Starbuck. You all know Jack?"

"Yes, good to see you Jack," Apollo shook his hand. "Looks like we had similar ideas on how to relax this cycle. Would you like to join us?"

"No thanks," Athena said quickly, not letting her gaze stray to Starbuck. While she wasn't particularly uncomfortable by her recent revelations to the man, she didn't think it would be fair to place Jack in the midst of that situation and wanted to move away as quickly as possible. "We're meeting Caphis and Omega in a few centons. We have reservations at the Star Lounge."

"I can see how you wouldn't want to pass those up," Sheba smiled. She had been trying to get reservations there for her and Apollo for the past couple of sectons. "How did you get the reservation?"

"I did a professional favor for the host," Jack smiled and put his arm around Athena. "If you two want..." Jack offered.

"Sure, can we let you know when we're both not working?" Sheba asked excitedly.

Starbuck, meanwhile, was working hard to look casual. It wasn't easy since any micron he expected Jack to turn around and deck him for kissing his date _and_ getting him sick.

"No problem. Have a good time tonight. It's nice to see you looking so well Starbuck," he smiled mischievously at the warrior.

"Uh, thanks. You too," Starbuck's face turned red.

"Good cycle," Athena nudged Jack towards the door. "I can't believe you said that!" she laughed once they were out of sight.

"Why? I thought it was funny," Jack shrugged his free shoulder.

"Oh, it was, it was," Athena grinned. "It's something _he_ would do. That or punch you."

"I considered that, but didn't think it was acceptable behavior in public," Jack teased her.

'What wasn't acceptable?" Caphis asked from behind them.

"Nothing. You don't want to know," Athena told him as she turned around.

"We just saw Starbuck," Jack grinned.

"I say we agree with Athena and get on with our evening," Omega offered his opinion.

"Aw, I didn't hurt him. I just made a joke," Jack shrugged.

"Don't forget he's a warrior and can kick your astrum," Caphis warned.

"I'm bigger than he is," Jack practically pouted.

"Is he Athena?" Caphis said with a wicked glint in his eyes.

"I really didn't have enough to drink for this. When is our reservation?" Athena flushed and changed the subject.

"In about five centons," Omega couldn't quite hide his grin. "Come on," he put his arm around Athena and began to lead her towards the Lounge. "We're going to have a nice cycle," he promised.

"Why did that sound ominous?" Athena asked with a sigh.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"You have to admit that was pretty funny," Sheba was giggling as Starbuck glared at her and Apollo did his best to look neutral. "Look, it could have been worse. He could have hit you. No one would fault him for that, well other than Athena who wouldn't want to end up on the IFB again."

"Oh frak," Starbuck threw his hands up in the air. "Why don't I just hide in the barracks? Everything I say or do ends up hurting someone! Listen, I'm not going to be much fun this cycle. You two go on ahead. I'm going back to the ship!"

As Starbuck turned to leave, Apollo placed his hand on his friend's shoulder.

"Starbuck?" Apollo's tone held an implicit question.

"I'll be fine," Starbuck shook the hand off and walked away.

"Wow," Sheba said breathlessly as she watched the normally good humored warrior stalk off.

"My thought exactly," Apollo wondered whether he should go after his friend and find out what was wrong. "I don't know, Sheba. He just hasn't been himself for sectons."

Sheba placed her hand on Apollo's arm. "If you need to go talk to Starbuck, I'll understand. I just wish he and Cassi would settle things and maybe then he'd snap out of this mood. They're speaking again, but I don't think things are going well."

Apollo placed his hand over Sheba's and looked down at her. "I don't know if it's that simple Sheba," he shook his head.

"You think he's still in love with Athena," Sheba acknowledged their earlier conversations on the subject, but didn't rush to agree. "Maybe he's just running scared from commitment again?"

"I don't know what's eating at him, but for right now let's go enjoy our cycle. Starbuck has some things he needs to work out alone," Apollo brought her hand to his lips. "If he needs to talk to me he knows where to find me."

Sheba opened her hand and cupped his cheek. "So how about that private room we originally planned to use? I didn't cancel the reservation."

Apollo smiled and placed his hand around Sheba's waist. "That sounds like a great idea to me," his eyes communicated just how deep his approval ran.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Rhys!" Athena exclaimed as her old friend approached their table with her date for the cycle.

"Athena," Rhys leaned over and kissed Athena's cheek. "It's great to see you."

"We have to make some time," Athena shook her head. "One of us is always too busy. Why don't you join us now?"

"Is that all right?" Rhys looked up at her date at his nod Jack waved over their waiter and requested two more place settings.

"Jack," Rhys turned to the legist she sometimes worked with. "You know Marty. Marty, this is Athena and..." she trailed off.

"Caphis of the Orphan Ship, Omega a fellow bridge officer," Athena finished the introductions. "I should have realized you two knew each other," she turned to Jack.

"We're the few remaining legists in the fleet. Jack has been a big help on our project to create a new legal system," Rhys explained as she took the newly added seat. "Marty is a political historian. He works with me as well."

"It's nice to meet you Marty," Athena smiled.

"We've eaten our first course already, but we can wait until you catch up," Caphis told the newcomers.

"So how do you and Rhys know each other?" Jack asked.

Athena and Rhys looked at each other silently for a few microns before Athena nodded. "Rhys and I met when I was in Academy and she was at the neighboring Lyceum. She and my brother Zac had a class together," she looked at Rhys for approval of her explanation.

Rhys' brown eyes communicated her gratitude at Athena's delivery of a shortened version of their history. "Did you get a chance to read the preliminary report I sent over?" Rhys turned to Jack with her question.

"Yes, when I was quarantined I got to catch up on my reading. I plan to send you a detailed critique next morning cycle, but overall I did like your outline for the Fleet Code," Jack told her. "Hopefully you'll be able to appease all the groups. I don't envy you that task.

"You could still join me?" Rhys offered with raised brows and a hopeful grin. "We can always use more allies in this effort."

"I might just take you up on that. You've gotten me thinking. You have some good ideas for the criminal justice system, but I think I can find some more room for compromise. Particularly in the areas the Gemons are fighting most about..."

"I thought we weren't talking shop tonight?" Marty took advantage of the lull in their exchange to interject.

Athena felt a twinge of relief at Marty's interruption. She too was beginning to feel uncomfortable as the two legists seemed to exist in their own world. Athena caught Marty's sympathetic smile and returned it with one of her own.

"Since I created the rule for tonight I had better follow it," Rhys smiled apologetically at Jack as she brushed her blonde hair over her shoulder and turned her attention back to the rest of the table. "I can't wait to have a _real_ fresh veggie mix!" she exclaimed as she perused the electronic menu in front of her.

"That's what I started with," Athena told her. "I highly recommend it! There is also some real fruit extracts to drink."

"I never thought I would welcome fresh veggies," Caphis chuckled. "The children can't get enough of them now either. There's an aluminous lining to everything I guess."

"I'd like to think there is something good in every situation," Rhys said seriously. "It keeps me sane."

"We all need that," Jack looked at Rhys as he spoke softly.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Contrary to his parting words to Sheba and Apollo, Starbuck hadn't gone back to the Galactica, instead he boarded the shuttle to the Science Ship. He had decided that if he didn't resolve things with Cass one way or another he was going to lose what was left of his sanity. Things between him and the med-tech had been in an intolerable state of limbo since she finally agreed to speak to him again almost a secton ago, but as with everything lately, things hadn't worked out as planned.

It seemed like forever had passed when he finally found Cass studying in the biblio where she had said she would be. She wasn't, however, alone and Starbuck quickly turned around when he spotted her in the group of what he supposed were other medical students. He had a feeling she wouldn't appreciate his intrusion.

He didn't want to go back the Galactica then either, knowing he wouldn't be able to be alone and he really needed to be. For sectons now he'd found himself experiencing more mental upheaval than he could ever remember. As usual, he had tried to ignore it and hope it would go away or that he would be able to beat it down into submission. Or repression as Cass often said.

But it wasn't working.

Obviously, Cass's suggested solution was the one he had to try now - it was the only one left. He had to think back to the cause and work his way through everything. If he didn't, he would finally manage to alienate all his friends and possibly endanger himself, his wingmate and the fleet because his concentration was beginning to slip. At this juncture, he was even considering asking Apollo to take him out of the patrol schedule. That's how he knew he'd better get a hold of himself real fast.

So instead of heading back to the battlestar, Starbuck had returned to the Rising Star and secured a private room for himself. It had cost a few extra cubits on such short notice and had earned him some surprised glances from the staff when they realized _he_ really was alone, but he couldn't think of anywhere else he could go.

Once alone in the room, he threw off his jacket and boots and was presently lying across the entire bed. He figured, since he didn't have to share for once, he might as well be comfortable. It probably was the first time in as long as he could remember that he actually _was_ alone.

"So when did all this...this...whatever start?" he asked the ceiling. He closed his eyes and tried to relax as Cass had taught him., one muscle at a time. First the toes and then slowly he concentrated on every centimeter of his lithe body.

After a few centons he felt himself begin to "float" on the top of the bed and he began to sift through his mind trying to pinpoint when he first began to feel so agitated.

Or more precisely, when Athena had become such an integral part of his life that not seeing her for days at a time scared him so much..

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Apollo?" Sheba sat up in the bed and held the sheet to her bare chest.

"Hmmm," Apollo said absently from across the room where he was bare-assed and preparing the meal that had been delivered over a centar ago.

"You know how you kind of hinted that you wanted to stay out of the Starbuck-Athena-Cassi situation?" she asked.

"You don't want to leave it alone," Apollo smiled as he continued his task and keeping his back to the bed.

"I can't. Our friends are suffering, as are our plans to be alone," Sheba continued. "We have to do something. We need to find out if Starbuck loves Athena or Cassiopeia."

"This sounds so familiar," Apollo shook his head and turned back towards the bed. "Over a yahren ago I believe, before you got here. I couldn't think of any way of finding out then and I can't think of anything now. Best I've been able to come up with is to place little hints and hope Starbuck makes up his mind soon."

"I'm not sure it's a matter of Starbuck making up his mind," Sheba stood up on her knees, still clutching the sheet to her chest, to Apollo's disappointment. "I don't know that he even realizes there is any question about whom he loves since he's never had to consider whether Athena would be around or not. She just always was. Now that she's made commitments off the Galactica and is dating someone he's actually met and doesn't live there..." Sheba trailed off as she gathered her thoughts before continuing.

"I'm not sure what he was thinking when he got involved with Cassi, but it definitely wasn't serious until after I showed up and Starbuck sensed some competition in the form of my father and his legend. I _know_ he cares about her, but how much? Was it convenience and new challenge? Was Starbuck more ready to settle down than he has been willing to admit? He did propose to Athena...although that might have been in a panic."

"Then again," Sheba continued, cutting off Apollo's unnoticed attempt to speak. "This just might be something he's only coming to terms with now that Cassi has made it clear she wants a commitment, someday at least. What do you think? He's your best friend," Sheba finally looked up at him.

During Sheba's oration Apollo had seated himself at the dining table and was sitting patiently with his legs crossed and his chin in his hand. "You sure you're ready?" he asked laconically.

"What?" Sheba looked at him quizzically.

"Nothing," Apollo waved his hand. "I think what you're saying has merit. But I've been pretty blind about Starbuck's feelings for my sister since the beginning. He has spoken to me about Cassi. Some of what he's said I now know wasn't completely true, such as the claim that she was the only woman he ever considered settling down with. And on that score Athena is just one of a few I've known about in the past. He's also said that he would get sealed to Cassi when we find Earth, but now that she's indicated she wants that as well, he's backing off. And he did say he loved Athena in the present tense the other day. I just don't know, Sheba. I should but I don't. Maybe there's nothing to know," Apollo sighed in frustration. "This food can't get any colder, by the way."

Sheba nodded and dragged the sheet around her body and sat down across from Apollo. She picked up the glass of chilled ambrosa Apollo had poured and continued to think aloud.

"No, there's definitely something going on. He did kiss Athena and he tagged along to the Orphan Ship. From what Cassi told me, he was completely freaked out when he thought Athena died. More than Cassi had expected, anyway. That's really why she couldn't speak to him for days. And now that they are speaking, things aren't going well," Sheba explained.

"You know," she said putting her cup down heavily. "I really shouldn't be getting so involved in this. I _am_ one of Cassi's closest friends. I think I'm intrigued by the idea of true love winning out. Probably not the best thing considering...things," she sighed.

"What things?" Apollo looked up from his plate.

Sheba shrugged and looked down at her own plate of food, suddenly unable to consider eating a bite.

"Sheba, what's wrong? What things?" Apollo put down his utensil and reached his hand out to clasp her chin.

Sheba looked at Apollo and sighed. She had tears in her eyes. "I'm being insane is all," she gave a tender smile. "Somehow all this got me thinking about Serina. I guess it's my comeuppance for talking about this behind Cassi's back."

"Sheba, you must know that you are the keeper of my heart, whatever and whoever was in my life before," Apollo knelt down before her and held her hand in his. "I've been told that I tend to be slow and dense and I know it's caused me to lose time. I don't intend to let that happen now. Sheba, will you consent to be my wife?"

Sheba's hand covered her mouth as tears began to spill down her cheeks. Apollo's eyes were a brilliant mix of gold and green as he looked up at her. Indeed, she could see him handing her his heart. As much as she wanted to accept his proposal, she couldn't speak. Instead she placed her free hand on his cheek and leaned down to capture his lips. Letting the sheet slip down her body, she communicated her love and acceptance with her lips until she too was kneeling on the floor, her bare body pressed against his.

"Is that a 'yes'?" Apollo pulled away just long enough to ask.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Sometimes it seemed that Starbuck had known Athena for more yahrens than he could remember. He had to admit that continuity alone made her special in his life. But length of acquaintance wasn't their only tie. She was his best friend's sister and they had shared some funny and some touching times between the three of them. They had even corresponded for a while when she first went to the Academy, but as he expected she soon didn't have the time or inclination to answer his messages and that had lapsed. Still, her presence in his life was, well, nice, but certainly it wasn't something he counted on or required all the yahrens he had known her. Certainly not before she joined the Galactica crew.

That hadn't even changed after she arrived on the Galactica. If anything he had been a bit amused by her arrival because Apollo had asked him to look out for her and protect her from being taken advantage of by other warriors. He was a warrior not a babysitter and since when did Athena need anyone to protect her? She seemed to have done pretty well without Apollo around and, while Starbuck hadn't seen her in a few yahrens, from what he remembered Athena had been a pretty little kid, but not someone who was going to cause the riot that Apollo seemed to expect. So both Boomer and Starbuck had nodded in agreement with Apollo and secretly told the other their only intention was to protect Athena from her overbearing older brother. Zac had concurred with their plan to ignore Apollo's concerns knowing that Athena would not appreciate being hovered over.

"I was blown away," Starbuck mumbled aloud as the images of Athena's arrival on the Galactica flowed through his mind. Starbuck and Apollo were scheduled for patrol within a half centar of Athena's arrival and were waiting together in the shuttle lounge with Zac as the new crew members arrived.

Starbuck remembered as his eyes sifted through the crowd looking for the little girl he remembered to disembark. A smile touched his lips as he remembered his gaze doing a double-take on a beautiful young woman who passed in front of his gaze and he even had made a mental note to look her up later before resuming his search for Apollo's sister. Within a few microns, however, Zac was rushing up to that very woman and engulfing her in a bear hug. Starbuck's eyes widened as he realized the sexy new crew member was actually, well, Athena!

Lords. Starbuck could remember his confusion as he returned her hug. Apollo was right to want to protect this child in a woman's body from the other officers he had decided on the spot. So while he had accepted this incredible beauty was Athena, he hadn't yet accepted that she had grown up inside as well. It would be something that would take sectars to sink in. Still that didn't stop him from having to fight his physical urges as he held her in his arms or over the centars of his patrol that day. And many days after that.

With a flush of shame and titillation, Starbuck remembered how close he had come to opening his pants and relieving the throbbing pressure within while sitting in his viper as the memory of her warm body pressed against him in greeting wouldn't leave his mind. But she was Apollo's little sister, practically his own little sister and not to mention the Commander's daughter! Somehow, after many centars of lecturing himself, he had managed to put his physical reaction to her safely away. And for sectons he refused to let himself think of her as anything but "his little sister."

"Until _that_ cycle," Starbuck's eyes closed in the dark and he shifted across the bed. His hands absently rubbed his thighs and his breathing became shallow as he settled down to remember.

All the friends had gathered in the O' Club to celebrate Zac's natal day a few sectons after Athena's arrival on board. It was the first cycle that Apollo and Starbuck had gotten during which they could observe just what effect Athena was having on their fellow warriors. As Apollo predicted, Athena along with her friends Bree and Dietra, were already popular among the more outgoing warriors.

Boomer and Zac concurred with the wingmates' observations with casual shrugs, obviously confident Athena could take care of herself. Neither Starbuck nor Apollo felt so complacent. Starbuck had already had to hold himself back from punching a few warriors over the past sectons whenever he walked through the corridors with the young woman, who for her part seemed oblivious to the lustful stares she caused. Starbuck wasn't oblivious, however, even if he wasn't going to let himself want her that way, again, himself.

"Oh Lords," Apollo groaned beside him, breaking his train of thought.

Starbuck had been about to ask what was wrong when he caught sight of Athena dancing with Lieutenant Targon, a man with as big a reputation as Starbuck, except that the women Targon dated always ended up hurt and defamed. Starbuck's vow to stay away from Athena that cycle dropped from his head without notice.

"I'll take care of this," Starbuck assured the older brother and strode to the middle of the dance floor.

"May I cut in?" Starbuck said smoothly, slipping his hand on Athena's arm even as he went through the motions of asking politely for permission. "Thanks," he said before Targon could even respond and pulled Athena into his arms.

As her arms slipped around his shoulders, he suddenly remembered his pledge and why it had been made. Belatedly, he tried to keep some distance between himself and his dance partner. Yet despite his well-trained thoughts, Starbuck's palms slipped sensuously down the soft navy blue material of Athena's new uniform and settled around her hips and pulled her closer, as he would have with any attractive woman.

"That uniform," Starbuck chuckled into the dark, momentarily distracted by the memory of it's first appearance in all of their lives. Whoever had chosen that uniform must have had Athena in mind! It was that party, in fact, that she had first worn it and directly led to the vow he had immediately thereafter broken.

Athena had arrived at the party after Apollo and Starbuck as she had been on bridge duty until then. Starbuck had almost choked on his grog as he caught sight of her in her new blue bridge uniform. The uniform skimmed her curvaceous body and accented her deep blue eyes. If she hadn't been wearing her hair up, Starbuck didn't even want to imagine the reaction she might cause in _other_ warriors there that cycle. And even though she didn't cause that kind of reaction in him, not after that first time and that was only because of his surprise, he vowed not to get too close to her. Of course Starbuck had been partly wrong, hair up or not she caused a stir among the warriors...

As they danced to the slow song, her body settled more fully against his. Even as he thought he should escort her back to her brother, Starbuck could feel her breasts pressing against his chest and her pelvic bone was rubbing against his. Then her breath stirred the hair around his left ear and soon his hair wasn't the only thing stirring as he felt himself surrounded by the heat of her body. There was no way he could bring her back to her brother now.

Unconsciously, the hands he had settled on her hips pulled her lower body even tighter against him and the evidence of his desire.

"Starbuck," Athena gasped in his ear as she stopped pretending not to notice his arousal.

"Frak," Starbuck exclaimed and tried to pull away.

"Wait," Athena tightened her arms around his neck.

"For what?" Starbuck asked suspiciously as his hands encircling her arms in order to pull them away.

"Can you, uh, move away uncovered?" she whispered, a blush staining her cheeks.

"Oh Lords," Starbuck dropped his forehead against hers as the truth of her questions sunk in. He couldn't move away from her without everyone seeing the evidence of his unwanted arousal. He had to wait for it die down. 'Yeah, with her in my arms,' he snorted out loud.

"If it makes you feel better, I'm flattered?" Athena said teasingly, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

"Well, that makes me feel better," Starbuck opened his eyes and looked down at her innocent blue eyes.

"It should, I've waited yahrens for you to want me as a woman. Of course, I was about eleven when I made that vow," she chuckled.

"Almost twelve," Starbuck corrected her automatically.

"It's late, how about you need to walk me back to my quarters?" Athena offered.

The present Starbuck rolled over in the bed on the Rising Star and buried his face in a pillow.

'She's certainly different,' Starbuck thought as he and Athena had left the party early in order to protect him from embarrassment and probably a pummeling from her older brother. Not only was she protecting him, all the way back to her quarters she hadn't mentioned his arousal but talked of inconsequential battlestar business. Most women, he knew without arrogance, would have already thrown themselves at his lustful mercy - in the middle of the O' Club!

Part of Starbuck had been relieved, but another part was insulted that she could treat his desire so casually. Obviously, he thought then, she didn't return it. A few centons later Starbuck was wishing she had taken his desire as casually as he had assumed.

"Why do you want me?" Athena asked him as soon as they were safely behind closed doors in her chamber.

"Um, uh, what?" Starbuck asked lamely.

"You obviously want my body, I was just wondering why and what you plan to do about it," Athena asked as she turned the light on.

"Nothing," Starbuck shrugged.

"Is it because my brother would kill you or because you think I'm just a child in a woman's body and couldn't handle you?" she sat down on the bed and looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Both?" Starbuck could remember making the mistake of saying.

"Oh," Athena nodded and uncrossed her arms.

"Oh what?" Starbuck asked, knowing he should just leave the room now, but intrigued despite himself to hear what this intriguing female would say then.

"That's what I expected. You're pretty predictable, Starbuck. For all your bluster about living on the edge, you rarely stray from your pattern," Athena seemed to dismiss him as she began to pull off her boots.

"Pattern? Predictable? Me?" Starbuck asked in an insulted and shocked tone.

"You flirt with every woman you find attractive, you take her out to dinner, maybe you make a little love to her, but it's rarely more than that. A dinner every few sectons until she realizes you're just marking time and she decides to move on. And you feel safe that way. I've seen women with real substance, women with more than a desire to feel attractive by being seen with you or to take the challenge of making you adore them, try to strike up conversations with you and your eyes glaze over and you tune them out," Athena unbuttoned the collar of her uniform top.

"And you're one of these women of substance?" Starbuck asked hurtfully.

"Not really. Not to you," Athena didn't let his defensiveness break her. "I'm in a category all by myself and you're not sure how to handle it. Is this the first time you've been aroused by me?"

"What?" Starbuck was surprised by the question and unwilling to answer it. In fact, the entire conversation was making him uncomfortable.

"It's not. I saw how stunned you were when I got here. Although you haven't seemed bothered by me until tonight. Of course you were too busy defending me from predatory warriors on my brother's orders," she rolled her eyes.

"I was not defending you because your brother ordered me to," Starbuck could remember feeling satisfied that he could refute something she had said in the past few centons.

"Oh?" Athena asked as she pulled the pins out of her hair. "Then why were you defending my honor and chastity?"

"I, uh, you see," Starbuck jabbered as he watched in fascination as Athena's hair fell around her shoulders. Her fair skin gleamed out from the frame of darkness and her eyes looked deeper and fathomless.

"See, that worse category, you don't know what to do. I'm a little sister to you, yet you find me desirable physically. Mentally, however, I haven't been promoted from a little girl either. Definitely something that Starbuck has not encountered before. Your normal pattern would be to either ignore me or romance me a little and then drop me. You can't do either because of my brothers and father," Athena sighed as if she sympathized with him.

"Let me give you a little help here," she approached him slowly.

"You want to help me?" Starbuck crossed his arms in front of his body.

"I"m not a little girl. Physically or emotionally. What I do with my love life is my business. I know you want me physically, but that's not enough to make for a satisfying interlude. You have to accept me and want me mentally as well. So I won't take advantage of your desire, this cycle," Athena said confidently. "But if you ever find yourself putting me in that substantive woman category, come find me before you write me off. Maybe I can teach you a thing or two." Athena watched him struggle for a few microns for a response before pushing him out of her room.

Starbuck stood staring at the closed door for a few centons before he realized what he was doing. Securing his dropped jaw, Starbuck turned on his heels and walked out of her quarters.

The present Starbuck began to laugh as he remembered how completely the "little girl" had thrown him for a loop. Of course, being himself he had pretended her words hadn't effected him. But truthfully, and he knew she knew it, he could think of little else but the words she had _dared_ to speak to him. No woman ever had before.

He had to admit, he kind of liked it. Somewhere along the way, after the Destruction, he realized she had lost the inclination to stand up to him and shock him. Perhaps because the last time she dared he had walked away from her without a backwards glance and brought Cassi to where he knew Athena would find them. Whatever the reason, Athena never dared to speak her mind to him that way again, and if she began to he always made sure to flaunt Cassi in his face. Until the cycle she ended their romantic relationship once and for all.

Still, despite the end of their romantic relationship, Athena hadn't left his life the way most ex-girlfriends did and he began to try and goad her into opening up to him that way again. A few times he had seen her face settle into the expression he knew preceded her telling him what was what, but she never did. Then suddenly, she wasn't around to play the game with him anymore. And he didn't know what to do about it.

"Perhaps because to her it was never a game, you stupid astrum," he said to the empty room.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"How long have you and Jack been together?" Rhys asked as they fixed their hair in the ladies lounge.

"A couple of sectars," Athena answered, her eyes focusing on her friend's reflection in the reflector glass. "Why do you ask?"

Rhys shrugged and tried to look nonchalant. After a few microns her mask fell and Athena could see the emotions in her eyes.

"You're in love with him," Athena turned and faced her petite friend. "I had no idea. You've never even mentioned him. What about Marty?"

"Because I knew if he saw you he would fall for you if I introduced you two," Rhys admitted with some embarrassment. "I've waited for him to get to a place where he could date without guilt. I had hoped I would be the first woman he thought of. Marty and I are just friends. He knows how I feel about Jack."

"I'm sorry," Athena felt guilty. "I had no idea. If it makes you feel any better, he and I are more friends than anything else. I don't think we'll work out as anything more."

"No!" Rhys protested. "You can't hurt him now just because of me."

Athena opened her mouth to speak and then shut it. She didn't know what to say. She really didn't think she and Jack would work out for the long term, but were just having a good time. There was no way, however, Athena could do that now knowing how her friend felt. The question was what to do now? She had no idea how Jack felt about Rhys. She couldn't imagine that he was immune to her, she was intelligent, loyal and simply gorgeous. First, Athena decided, she had to find out if Jack had any interest in their mutual friend!

"Let's get back," Athena smiled brightly at her friend.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"So how long have you known Rhys?" Athena asked Jack as they danced to the slow song the band was playing.

"Yahrens actually. We traveled in some of the same professional circles back in the Colonies. I never worked closely with her until the fleet though," Jack answered absently. "You've known her since your Academy days?"

"Yes, she and my brother Zac were engaged to be married," Athena told him, hoping that would gain a reaction.

"He was killed when the Cylons attacked," Jack remembered the story. "I had no idea she had lost someone..." he said absently as his gaze sought out the blond woman in the crowd.

"It's not something you brag about," Athena told him, even as she sensed his pique at her not sharing the bit of information when Rhys obviously knew about his family.

"No, but...we've talked about that sort of thing," Jack said with more than a trace of anger.

"She's a very private person," Athena explained. "Perhaps she wasn't ready to talk about it, or felt it wasn't as...wasn't comparable to your loss?"

"I do tend to close off during those discussions," Jack admitted. Athena noticed his eyes again stray towards the blond woman as he tried to work out the mechanics of their past relationship.

Athena watched with a sad smile on her face. Once again, it seemed, she was left out in the cold. 'But that's the way it should be,' she closed her eyes and took a breath.

Jack was not the man for her. It seemed there had never been any other man besides Starbuck. She had faith in both of those facts, but that didn't mean her life was over, nor did it mean she should sit idly by and let Jack and Rhys continue to fumble their way towards a relationship. Not when there was something she could do about something.

"I'm really sorry guys, but I have this headache that I just can't get rid of tonight. I'm going to go back to the Galactica and get some sleep," Athena announced suddenly as she and Jack returned to the table.

"Oh? I'm sorry Athena. Rhys, Marty, I hope you have a nice evening," Jack looked disappointed as he moved to Athena's side, preparing to escort her home.

"Oh no, this is your first evening out since quarantine, please stay. Marty said he would walk me to the shuttle," Athena smiled weakly, trying to convey herself as someone with a headache.

"I did?" Marty looked up at the mention of his name. Then he looked at Rhys and Jack and stood up quickly. "I did," he said more confidently. "I, uh, have some work I had forgotten about. So, why don't you stay too, Rhys, and keep Jack company. So have a good cycle you two."

Before either of the victims of the rash excuses could speak, Marty's hand was on Athena's back and he was leading her away from the table.

"What you've done tonight is really nice for your friend," Marty said to Athena after they were outside the club.

"She's in love with him, what else could I do? She deserves to be happy and, from what I saw, Jack might return those feelings," Athena shrugged.

"Still, he was your date," Marty smiled. "I think you may be right. Jack might just be ready to recognize his feelings for Rhys. He came to see her right after he got out of quarantine...so are you really planning to go home?"

"Yeah," Athena sighed. "I think I've done enough for one cycle."

"You did a lot. I've been trying to get them together for ages. This couldn't have worked better if we had planned it," Marty chuckled.

"Well, whatever happens now is up to them," Athena pointed her thumb back towards the club. "It was nice to meet you, Marty."

"It was nice to meet you too, Athena, hope your head feels better," Marty winked.

"Hey, aren't you walking me to the shuttle bay," Athena teased. "Seriously, no need. Go have a good time, you've had your eyes towards the gaming tables all cycle."

"You're right about that, somehow I never seem to make it here. Have a good cycle," Marty shook Athena's hand.

"You too," Athena waved before turning and heading for the shuttle lounge.

<><><><><><><><><><>"

The game, I've missed the game!" Starbuck sat up in a rush of inspiration. Suddenly he began to feel much better. It all began to make sense to him. He and Athena had been engaged in a game for so long and she decided to stop playing without telling him. Starbuck knew he wasn't the type of man to let up on a challenge.

"So that's why it upset me and I kissed her!" Starbuck leaped off the bed and began to reassemble his uniform. Finally, he had some reasonable explanation to offer Cassi. Now things would be all right between them again!

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Come live with me on the Orphan Ship, we can get sealed," Caphis lay soft kisses along Omega's jaw line as they lay in bed.

"I wish I could," Omega mumbled, obviously half asleep. "I have to be on the Galactica. Come live with me. Couldn't someone else cover for you whatever cycles I'm not on duty, particularly the late ones?"

"Why do I feel like this is a replay of yahrens ago," Caphis sighed and lay his head back on Omega's shoulder.

"It's not. We'll work it out. When I'm not on call and we don't expect danger, we can stay on the Orphan Ship. Other times we can stay on the Galactica," Omega kissed Caphis' forehead.

"You're right. We both do important work we can't abandon, but we can't abandon each other either. So do you know of any other couples on the Galactica where one spouse works elsewhere?" Caphis traced patterns on Omega's naked chest.

"Actually, I do. Generally the spouse lives on the Galactica, though," Omega chuckled at the irony of the situation. Yahrens ago they had been separated by time and space. Certainly this minimal distance could be resolved.

"Let me think about it. I'm sure my assistant could handle me being away some of the time," Caphis promised. "In fact, he'd probably love it if I wasn't always breathing over his shoulder."

"That _I_ can't understand," Omega whispered.

"Oh really?" Caphis rolled over and poised his lips above Omega's shoulder.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Athena...um, Starbuck," the two warriors exclaimed in surprise as they bumped into each other looking for seats on the crowded shuttle. Both pair of eyes fell onto two empty seats in front of them and then back to the other's face.

'It's not like this cycle couldn't stand to get worse!' Athena thought as she struggled to keep the tears out of her eyes. While she was genuinely pleased for Jack and Rhys, assuming they didn't mess things up, it didn't stop the feeling of loneliness that radiated from her aching heart. All she wanted to do was endure a long ride back home and lock herself into her chambers and cry herself to sleep. Instead, the very cause of her sadness stood before her ready to share the long ride back with her. Now Athena worried whether she could hold the tears at bay until she was alone.

"Athena, are you all right?" Starbuck slipped a solicitous hand under her elbow and guided her unresisting body into a seat. "Athena," Starbuck whispered again as he sat down next to her.

"What?" Athena roused herself from her reverie and looked at the concerned friend at her side.

"Are you all right? Do you feel well? Did Jack do something to upset you? He didn't come on too strong did he?" he demanded.

"I'm fine, just a headache," Athena repeated the lame excuse she had spontaneously made earlier.

"Are you sure?" Starbuck whispered.

"Yes, I just need to close my eyes," she smiled weakly at him before doing just that.

"Do you want me to take you to the Life Center?" Starbuck persisted. "Are you still...um...sick?"

"No, I'm fine Starbuck, I just need some sleep," Athena insisted wearily. If he didn't stop being so solicitous she really was going to start sobbing!

"Here," Starbuck slipped his arm around Athena's shoulders and pulled her head until she was resting on his chest.

"No, Starbuck!" Athena tried to squirm away as his warmth and familiar scent surrounded her.

"If you don't fall asleep right now, I'm taking you to the Life Center," Starbuck threatened.

"This is going to cause rumors," Athena insisted against his chest, even though she found herself beginning to feel less sad as his chin settled in her hair and his hand absently clasped her own in his lap.

"Everything does, why bother to care?" Starbuck shrugged underneath her cheek. "You have a headache and I can be here to make sure you're not disturbed. Now try and feel better," Starbuck began to stroke her hair with his free hand in a rhythm he knew from prior experience would soothe her to sleep.

"If you insist," Athena murmured as her arm slipped obligingly around his waist.

"I insist, what are friends for?" Starbuck smiled into her hair.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Starbuck closed his eyes as he breathed in the scent of the sleeping woman on his chest. Less than half a centar earlier, he had convinced himself that he didn't feel anything of a romantic nature for her and was only interested in the challenge she had unwittingly created for him. Somehow, his body hadn't gotten the message and it was taking all his willpower not to wiggle and probably wake her up.

"Starbuck," Athena mumbled sleepily against his chest.

"Yeah," Starbuck paused to clear his throat. "Um, yeah." When Athena didn't respond, he brushed the hair off her face and took a peek. She seemed to still be sleeping, unconsciously his hand tightened around her hair as he realized she was mumbling his name in her dreams.

'I wonder what she's dreaming about?' Starbuck wondered uncomfortably as his hand dropped from her hair and moved to rest on her bare shoulder. He dropped his eyes and let out a breath, trying to calm the riot of tension that was stiffening his body. 'Big mistake,' he groaned to himself as his eyes strayed to Athena's bare legs. Unable to stop himself, his other hand dropped to Athena's thigh and he smoothed down her short dress, ostensibly to keep her covered from prying eyes, but in reality he wanted to confirm whether her dress was as soft as it looked when he had seen her earlier dancing with Jack.

It was.

'Frak!' Starbuck groaned as he felt his arousal heighten and his hand strayed back up her lap. The pads of his fingers tingled as he was barely able to stop himself from slipping under her skirt and seeing whether she was as aroused as he couldn't help imagining.

'It's the color,' he told himself. Her dress was the same dark blue as her uniform. As "that" uniform he had been thinking about earlier.

"Mmmm," Athena let out a wistful moan against his chest.

Starbuck looked around to see if anyone could see them, but fortunately Athena was in the window seat and her body was well hidden from everyone else, including the people across the aisle.

'Just one more time and she'll never know,' Starbuck thought urgently as he slid his hand off her shoulder and under her arm until his hand was cupping her breast. He felt a stab of pleasure between his legs as her nipple tightened beneath his thumb. All during his movements he kept a close watch on her expression so he would know when she woke up. So far, she didn't seem aware of his guilty caresses.

Starbuck's tongue slipped out of his mouth and wet his lips as he imagined taking the hardened pebble into his mouth.

Slowly, Starbuck slid his hand from Athena's skirt and slid his fingers along her bare thigh until one more movement would have him under her skirt. Then Athena shifted, bringing her knee up against his leg and his hand came to rest on the inside of her thigh. Even centimeters away from her center he could feel her heat on his hand. It was irresistible.

Not bothering to check if she was still sleeping, Starbuck slid his hand up her leg and brushed his fingers over her aroused center.

"Oh God," Athena moaned.

"Uh, I, uh," Starbuck froze as his eyes met very awake, and very aroused blue ones looking up at him.

"Starbuck?" Athena asked in a sleepy voice.

"I, I, I..." Starbuck couldn't think of one thing to say to explain what the frak he was doing to her formerly sleeping body.

"Maybe you could move now?" Athena prompted him.

"Yeah," Starbuck moved his hands off her body and pulled away. Flushed, he looked away as Athena fixed her clothes.

"What were you doing?" she asked him a centon later.

"The color..." Starbuck fumbled around for an explanation. Yet, how could he provide her with one when he couldn't explain it to himself. Just a centar ago he had convinced himself that it was just the challenge, but how much of a challenge was a sleeping woman? Cassi! He suddenly remembered who he was going to see. He was going to make things right with Cassi and here he was fondling Athena, again!

"Forget it," Athena said stiffly as she looked out the window of the shuttle.

"I'm sorry, I, uh, I don't know what I was thinking," Starbuck mumbled.

"I never know what you're thinking," Athena said bitterly as she fought back tears.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Good, you're here," Starbuck came barreling into Cassi's quarters. He had decided to put his lapse with Athena behind him. He had promised himself that he would work things out with Cassi and he wasn't going to back down from that goal because of a few centons slip up. 'I'll make it up to Athena later,' he put the sight of her reddened eyes out of his mind as he waited for Cassi to turn around.

"Starbuck," she said in surprise and turned around to face the harried warrior.

"Cass, I figured it all out!" he grasped her arms.

"Hang on," Cassi shook out of his grasp and put her hand up. "Figured what out?"

"Why I've been so crazy the past sectars," Starbuck smiled. "I did some thinking tonight and I put it all together!"

Cassi sighed and sat back down on her couch/bed. She didn't look as excited as Starbuck seemed to expect her to. "What did you figure out, Starbuck?" she asked patiently.

"This whole thing with Athena. I figured out why it's bothered me so much. It's because I was engaged for so long with her in this game and she just stopped playing without telling me! Maybe she didn't realize we were playing, I didn't until tonight. But _that's_ why I kissed her! I was frustrated, but now I know why! So now there's nothing for us to worry about, nothing for you to worry about since I knew it wasn't going to happen again!" Starbuck finally paused for a breath.

"Did you work all that out by yourself?" Cassi looked up at the pacing warrior.

"Huh?" Starbuck turned to look at her for the first time since he started his tirade.

"Starbuck, sit down," she asked him quietly.

"Why do I think you're not all that impressed with what I've figured out?" he asked warily as he complied.

"Starbuck, you're kissing Athena isn't the only problem between us. I think you know that," Cassi placed her hand over his.

"I definitely sense you're not excited," Starbuck quipped weakly.

"Starbuck, things between us they just don't work. Maybe we never should have gotten to this point? Maybe I never should have pushed a commitment? I don't know. I do know that for sectars you've been distant with me. Sometimes things would be really great, but sometimes you just weren't there. And ever since the mission on the basestar and I made it clear how I felt, it's only gotten worse. The situation with Athena is only another symptom," Cassi said seriously. "I'm leaving Starbuck. The Galactica, you, all of this. I've decided to commit to medical classes full-time and will be living on the Science Ship. There's no reason for me to hang around here and wait. You love me Starbuck and I love you, but it's not that burning passion that will carry us much further. I think it's best we end this now before we begin to resent each other even more."

"I don't resent you, Cassi," Starbuck's eyes were mysteriously blurry. "I don't want you to go. I can fix this, I know I can."

"It's over, there's nothing to fix," Cassi stroked his cheek as tears began to overflow from her own eyes. "I love you Starbuck, more than I've ever loved any man. This wasn't an easy decision to make."

"So don't you think you should have made it with me? You're the one who is always talking about discussing things first," Starbuck said angrily as he stood up.

"Breaking up is not usually something that's jointly decided, not when it's something one person knows is right. This is right ,Starbuck," Cassi wiped her cheeks.

"You said you forgave me about Athena!" Starbuck accused.

"I do forgive you, Starbuck, that doesn't mean I can just forget it. Look at yourself. You rush in here trying to fix our relationship by coming up with some ridiculous rationalization as to why you've been preoccupied with another woman. And part of that rationalization is that you've been playing some sick game with her for...for just how long? Our entire relationship? Don't you see? Athena has always been a part of our relationship. It's only when she hasn't been there that you've noticed that. That I've noticed that."

Cassi stood up and began pacing. "I understood. I thought I did. She was just another fling you were having with some lovely young woman. Then she turned out to be your best friend's sister. So she was a part of your life. I was fine with that. You had chosen to be with me. But did you really Starbuck? This game? What was it? Using me as a shield from her? Because she turned down your proposal? Was getting married to me her punishment?" Cassi demanded.

"I..." Starbuck tried to figure out how to respond. "It was never like that, I don't know what you're talking about!"

"It's over Starbuck. In another secton I'll be off the Galactica, maybe then you can figure out just what kind of game you've been playing with yourself?" Cassi controlled her tone again.

"My games? Maybe you're the one who has been playing games!" Starbuck drew himself up to military posture. "You've tired of playing med-tech and girlfriend of a warrior, so on to bigger and better things for the former socialator!"

"It doesn't have to end like this,"Cassi said pleadingly.

"No, it just has to end," Starbuck hissed, his eyes flashing with anger.

"There's something else," Cassi's shoulders drooped. "I had intended to save this for another time, but I think I'd better tell you now."

"What other surprises does the woman have in store for us tonight?" Starbuck threw his arms in the dramatically.

"I think you'd better sit down," Cassi told him.

"Whenever someone tells me that, I can't sit down," Starbuck said stiffly.

"It's about your...it's about Chameleon and the genetic tests," Cassi started slowly. "He asked me to lie to you. He is your father."

"What?!" Starbuck shouted.

"He didn't want you to abandon your life for him. I didn't want you to abandon your life, so I respected his wishes," Cassi admitted, flinching slightly at the hurt and fury on Starbuck's face.

"You lied to me about my father?" he asked in a strangled voice. "You, of all people, the person I trusted most with my...you kept this from me? How dare you! How dare both of you!"

"We did it for you," Cassi backed away.

"For me? You dare say you lied to me about this for me? If you can say that, if you can do that...you are not the woman I thought I loved. You're not even someone I like," Starbuck spit the words out at her. "I never want to see you again. You can't be off this ship fast enough for me."

The former couple stood staring at one another for another few microns before Starbuck turned on his heel and stalked out.

"Someday I hope you'll forgive me," Cassi wiped the tears from her cheeks, still it felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Indeed, the weight of the lies she had lived with for sectars was finally gone.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Athena, I thought you were on the Rising Star," Colonel Tigh said in surprise as he saw his assistant heading down the corridor towards him.

"I was, I got bored. I was just going to see my father," she shrugged.

"He's asleep, if you can believe that," Tigh chuckled.

"Oh, I guess I'll try and do the same," she sighed.

Ever since leaving the shuttle, however, Athena had felt too jumpy to sleep. It was no wonder, considering.

"If you're really bored, you could always take an extra cycle of duty," Tigh offered.

Athena thought for a few microns. "Let me change and I'll meet you on the bridge?" she laughed at the strangeness of the entire day. She wasn't going to get any sleep this cycle, she might as well be productive.

"I've never seen you this happy to go on duty before!" Tigh called down the corridor after her.

"You have no idea!" Athena continued to laugh as she headed towards her quarters to change.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Athena, I thought you were off duty this cycle," Rigel looked up in surprise as Athena sat down next to her.

"I was, but things didn't work out as expected. So...here I am," Athena shrugged. "Have things been quiet?"

"Blessedly yes. The biggest events tonight have involved some ships calling Core Command and complaining about late delivery of the new fruits and vegetables from the Agro Ships. They think they're being slighted in favor of Council Members again," Rigel rolled her eyes. "And Starbuck took a shuttle somewhere."

"The legacy of Sire Uri lives on," Athena observed. "It's been a secton and already we're getting spoiled. The Commander is right, we haven't lost our basic qualities."

"I can vouch for that!" Rigel nodded enthusiastically.

"How about a drink after shift?" Athena proposed as she tried not to wonder where Starbuck was taking his girlfriend.

"Sounds like a plan!" Rigel smiled at her friend before turning her full attention back to the calls coming in to Core Command. "I'll need it by then."

"I already do," Athena mumbled to herself as she headed to the Command Bridge to take Omega's usual spot and give his furlon replacements a break for the cycle.

"So, do you like that seat?" Colonel Tigh asked from her father's usual seat.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" Athena spun her seat around to face her superior.

"Well, it's a comfortable chair, but it's not made for me," Tigh chuckled. "No one can fill his seat."

"Can't argue with that," Athena tilted her head. "I say the same for Omega. So what's with the question?"

"Can't a Colonel make idle conversation?" Tigh crossed his arms.

"Not usually he can't. What gives?" Athena turned back to the console.

"I've been wondering if Omega might leave us to join Caphis on the Orphan Ship," Tigh commented.

"Are there any rumors that escape your notice?" Athena wondered aloud.

"Not many. Like the one that I just heard a few centons ago about a certain med-tech breaking up with a certain warrior so she can pursue her career as a doctor," Tigh studied his fingernails as he imparted the surprising news.

"What?" Athena dropped her hands to her lap to prevent herself from doing any damage in her shock.

Tigh stood up and came to stand behind Athena's chair. He leaned over and pressed a few buttons over the shocked bridge officer's shoulder.

"Where in the world did you hear that? I just saw Starbuck not half a centar ago," Athena shook her head. "I think you're getting misinformation."

"My source was pretty reliable," Tigh assured her. "Sources actually."

"Maybe," Athena said hesitantly. "But why...I mean, I'm sure I'll find out, but..." she trailed off, not quite willing to ask Tigh why he was gossiping!

"You want to know why I'm telling you?" Tigh understood. "No, I don't normally gossip about my warriors or officers, but I thought Starbuck might be in need of some friendship soon. Apollo and Boomer aren't around and probably won't be when Starbuck gets back."

"Back from where? And why me?" Athena shooed Tigh's hand off her console so she could finish her calibrations.

"You and Starbuck have a special bond, Athena. You always have, despite the events of the past yahren," Tigh said quietly. "If Boomer and Apollo aren't around to ground him, that leaves you or your father."

"I'm not so sure this is a situation in which my efforts will be appreciated," Athena said uncomfortably as she tried not to remember what had happened earlier in the shuttle.

"Perhaps," Tigh shrugged. "But you can keep an eye on him. My intrusion won't be welcome and no one else knows enough to stop him from hitting self destruct. Except maybe now his father, if he'll listen to him."

"Colonel, no offense, but you're losing me again and possibly your mind!" Athena barely refrained dropping her head into her hands.

"Chameleon is really his father," Tigh put his hand on Athena's shoulder. "He asked Cassiopeia not to tell Starbuck. Starbuck raced out of here on a shuttle a few centons before you got here to find him."

"Oh Lords," Athena whispered brokenly as she suddenly realized why Tigh was imparting this knowledge to her. If anyone would understand what this information could do to Starbuck, it was her family. Starbuck's putative family and closest friends. He had been prepared to desert his friends and responsibilities to follow Chameleon. Lords knew what he might do now that he had discovered he had been deceived.

"I see you get my meaning," Tigh said solemnly.

"He went to look for his...father," Athena stated over the weight on her chest that was making it hard for her to breath. Athena's heart yearned to jump out of her seat and run after him, but knew that there was nothing she could do. She only hoped he would allow someone to be there for him when his temper wore off and he landed.

Whichever came first.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Starbuck's hands were still trembling as he waited for the shuttle's systems to power down. The deceit that had just been revealed to him half a centar before was still sending adrenaline through his system. The first woman, no make that the second woman, he had laid his heart open to only to have the door slammed in his face.

'At least Athena never lied to me,' he thought, getting angrier by the micron at the full import of Cassi's continuous deception became clearer through his red haze of anger. He didn't know how he could deal with it, or her.

"I don't have to deal with her! She's already gone," he swiped his hand through the air demonstratively. Now he just had to figure out how to deal with Chameleon. His father.

Father.

The word held so many meanings for him, some he had never dared to analyze too deeply. Belonging. Normalcy. Stability. Everything he never had and always yearned for. Something he believed he could never have without parents, or at least discovering who they were and where he came from. So now he did have at least one of his parents and links to the mother he could never remember or meet, if any part of what Chameleon had once said to him was true! And now that parent didn't want him.

'Would anyone?' the question slithered through his mind and it suddenly occurred to him that it was one he had heard many times before. One that undermined his entire emotional life.

Starbuck's eyes closed as he let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

While it might have seemed to be a silly and useless question before, it was one that had proven to be all too true. His father didn't want him, not then and now now.

Now, Starbuck wanted to know why?

<><><><><><><><><><>

Starbuck didn't have to search hard to find where his "father" was hiding on the Senior Ship. A few well-worded questions about gambling or fun found him heading towards a recreation room within centons. His eyes were immediately drawn to the elder gentleman who was at the center of attention, not surprisingly playing what looked to be an intense game of pyramid.

Starbuck almost got a perverse pleasure as his determined stride broke the players' concentration.

"Lieutenant Starbuck," Chameleon looked up in surprise.

"Chameleon," Starbuck nodded mockingly. "I need to have a word with you. In private."

"In a moment, Son," Chameleon smiled and turned back to his hand.

"Interesting you should call me that," Starbuck commented before striding out of the room to wait.

A few centons later a wary looking Chameleon joined him in the corridor. Without a word, Starbuck turned and led them to an empty recreation room, trusting that the older man would follow.

As soon as the door closed, Starbuck whirled and began to ask the questions that were crowding in his mind.

"Was I so unworthy and unwantable as a son," Starbuck tried to keep his composure. "Were you so ashamed of me? Did you want to travel light?"

"Starbuck?" Chameleon asked hesitantly. "What are you talking about?"

"What am I talking about? I'll tell you what I'm talking about, Father," Starbuck spit out the last word with as much disgust as he could muster. "I'm talking about a few lies and a genetic test."

"Cassiopeia told you," Chameleon nodded as his fears were confirmed.

"Yeah, she finally confessed!" Starbuck said waspishly. "So tell me, why did you want to lie about your relation to me?"

"I didn't want you to leave your life for the likes of me," Chameleon spread his hands out, palms up.

"What?" Starbuck put his hands on his hips.

"You were going to quit the military and join me on the senior ship. You were planning to leave your friends and make your way around the Fleet as father and son. I couldn't let you do that. You mean to much to the Fleet and you mean to much to me to allow you to abandon your life," Chameleon said as earnestly as he could.

"I..." Starbuck closed his eyes. "I did say that. But don't you think I deserved the right to make that choice? You just didn't want me with you!"

"No, son. I would want nothing more than to be your father, but I don't know how to be one. I haven't been one to you since you were three. But I knew enough to know it would be wrong for you to give up your entire life. I knew that you would end up hating both of us after you gave up the people and the things that have been your family a lot longer than I," Chameleon tentatively placed his hand on Starbuck's arm. "I love you, Starbuck, and I'm proud of you. Cassi was only doing what I asked her to."

"She knew, she should have known how important this was to me. She shouldn't have agreed to lie to me. She shouldn't have lied to me and she should have told me much sooner," Starbuck said bitterly.

"Don't blame her. If anyone is to blame, it's me," Chameleon sat down on couch.

"No, I can't forgive her for this. She knew how important finding my family is, was, to me. She knew! I may have said some crazy things, but I wouldn't have deserted Apollo or Adama. I am a warrior and a good one. She should have trusted me. You should have trusted me," Starbuck's hands still trembled.

"Perhaps we should have," Chameleon sighed. "But I was overwhelmed. I had never thought to find you again. It was all a hoax to escape the Nomen and suddenly I found myself the father to a brave, wonderful man who wanted to abandon his life for me. For what? To travel around and con people and gamble? Cassiopeia took pity on me and she thought you would leave her."

"So instead she lies to me and now she's leaving me!" Starbuck threw his hands in the air. Nothing made sense to him at this point.

"She's what? I can't believe that. She loves you. Even I could see that," Chameleon shook his head in disbelief.

"Love? Love is not about lies and deception. Love is about trust and truth and not walking away..." Starbuck trailed off as the import of his words hit him. A confused look crossed over his face as he wondered when he had made _that_ connection.

"Perhaps you're right, but she meant well. Everyone makes mistakes," Chameleon told him.

"Yeah, they do," Starbuck said absently. Something, he had figured something out, but what?

"Starbuck, son? Are you all right?" Chameleon stood up and approached his son.

"What? Yeah, I...I need to think," Starbuck shook his head.

"But you'll be back?" Chameleon asked fearfully.

"Do you want me to?" Starbuck looked at the blue eyes so like his own.

"Yes, I do," Chameleon said sincerely.

"Then I'll be back. You're my father and I...I love you," Starbuck swallowed. "So I won't walk away. But I need to...there are things I need to think about."

"I owe you that, I can wait," Chameleon said, even as his eyes showed the fear that Starbuck wouldn't return.

"I will be back, I promise. I just need to think," Starbuck put his hands on Chameleon's arms. "How about dinner next night cycle?"

"Yes, and I'll make it up to you," Chameleon promised.

"You must be my father," Starbuck sighed, the anger having left his body. "I say that all the time. I think I need to follow through on some of those promises myself."

"Are you going to talk to Cassiopeia?" Chameleon asked hopefully.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Starbuck promised evasively before running out.

<><><><><><><><><><>

And Starbuck didn't stop running until he reached the door that was his goal since leaving the Senior Ship. As his hand rested on the cold metal, he wondered why life was always bringing him back here. Uncaring as to whether he could be seen, Starbuck rested his forehead against his hand and closed his eyes. As he brought his breathing under control, he tried to find one thought he could hang on to. With a chuckle he gave up and pressed the announce button. If he had a clear head, after all, he wouldn't be here.

After a centon there was no response inside and Starbuck began to get worried. Athena hadn't seemed well the last time he saw her. It was possible she was sleeping and hadn't heard the chime, but what if she was ill again and unable to answer? His heart began to speed up as he rang again.

"If you're looking for Lieutenant Athena, she's on bridge duty," a voice from behind informed him.

"Uh, duty?" Starbuck turned around, momentarily disoriented. "Thanks."

"No problem, Lieutenant," the unfamiliar ensign continued past.

'I wasn't gone that long, she wasn't scheduled for duty,' Starbuck thought to himself as he walked slowly back down the corridor. 'Perhaps it's a reprieve,' he thought with bitter humor.

What was he doing showing up at her door, once again, in the midst of an emotional crisis just because Apollo and Boomer were otherwise occupied? Starbuck ran a hand down his tired face as he tried to think of what to do now. The woman had admitted she loved him and here he was inflicting himself on her to comfort him over his girlfriend, make that ex-girlfriend's, deceit.

At the remembrance of Athena's admission, Starbuck felt a fluttering in his stomach.

'She loves me,' he repeated the words to himself for the millionth time since the admission. His hands bunched into fists as he stepped onto the turbo lift and absently pressed a button for a lower level. 'And I couldn't do a thing about it because I was with...her,' Starbuck was still unable to even think the name of the woman who had so recently been discovered to have so profoundly betrayed him.

He slumped back against the wall as he tried to block the confusing thoughts from his mind. As always, he had been doing that for sectons, sectars even, and it was time for of reckoning.

'No time like the present. I doubt if anything else can come at me now,' Starbuck thought with dread.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"I thought you were going to avoid him?" Bree shook her head from her position on the couch.

"Yeah, what about the vow to get over him?" Dietra chimed in from the other side of the room.

"They are right," Rigel told Athena who was sitting on the floor in the middle of the other women.

"I know, I know," Athena acknowledged with a sigh before taking another sip of grog, suddenly glad she hadn't revealed what had happened earlier on the shuttle. If her friends knew that, Starbuck would be out with the next refuse dump.

"So what's going on? I heard he broke up with Cassiopeia last cycle," Rigel propped her feet up on a table. "And he left and came back while we were on duty."

"Are there no secrets on this ship?" Dietra said into her cup of grog. "Give the poor man a chance to recover. I'm sure he'll be here soon, though."

"I doubt that," Bree shook her mane of blond hair over her shoulder. "He knows Athena won't give him the time of day after what he did last yahren."

"Why would he think that?" Rigel asked the pretty pilot. "He never thought any woman was immune to his charm, especially Athena whom he knows is in love with him."

"You're still in love with him?" Bree almost dropped her cup of grog. "I mean, I know that, but he knows that?"

"I told him a few sectons ago," Athena admitted with a blush in her cheeks.

"You what?" Dietra sat up, echoing her wingmate's shock. "You told him that? Is that why Cassi dumped him? Is that why he kissed you? Why didn't you tell us?"

"I thought once I decided to get over him it would be easier if I admitted it, like fighting an addiction, admit you have a problem," Athena leaned her head back against the desk behind her.

"You've been trying for over a yahren. Why would now be different?" Dietra asked logically.

"I didn't because...I don't know," Athena chuckled. "I figured he and Cassi were going to be sealed and I just would."

"You'd better watch out," Bree warned. "He's bound to be lonely and wanting some comfort. In his mind you're practically a sure thing now."

Athena bit her tongue. Her friends obviously didn't know the rest of the story, about Chameleon. If anything would send Starbuck reeling in her direction, it was that fact. No matter what had happened between them, Starbuck knew Athena was someone he could trust with his feelings on that subject. Even if she couldn't trust him.

"Don't let him draw you back in," Bree repeated her warning.

"I don't know guys, I think Starbuck is still in love with Athena," Rigel disagreed. "This might send him back to her, but maybe he's ready to settle down?"

"Starbuck? Settle down? Commitment?" Bree said doubtfully.

"He committed to Cassi, she broke up with him," Rigel pointed out, unaware of the last cycle's transgression.

"He kissed Athena, that's hardly commitment. I say he can't be trusted anymore than he could before," Bree refilled her cup as she spoke. "I've dated him myself," she reminded her friends.

"You went to dinner with him a couple of times. I wouldn't call that dating. But Bree's right about the fact he's probably going to try and use you to get over Cassi," Dietra said rationally. "I'm only saying this because I don't want to see you get hurt by him again. You have a whole new life now. You're going to adopt Noah and...well...things with Jack didn't work out, but there are other men in the Fleet who are worthy of you."

"Starbuck is worthy of me!" Athena defended. "He's just...he's just not the man for me. He doesn't love me. I'm sure when he finds the right woman he'll change his ways."

"I think you're the right woman for him," Rigel said quietly. "It just wasn't the right time and circumstances. I do agree, though, that you shouldn't just let him use you to get over Cassi. He needs to figure things out first."

"Starbuck does _not_ love me, not in that way," Athena refused to let herself believe what her roommate was saying. She wanted desperately to believe it and such thoughts had only caused her hurt in the past. "I am making a new life for myself. Starbuck and I are friends and avoiding him only makes him seek me out more. I'll get over it in good time."

"I don't see how you can with him always around," Bree observed. "Maybe Rigel has a point though, he is always looking at you or for you. But he definitely hasn't figured it out yet."

"Habit," Dietra suggested. "Athena is his best friend's sister and they've known each other forever. She's practically his sister."

"I appreciate all this advice, but you're only confusing me more!" Athena squirmed, he certainly hadn't touched her like a brother today or in the O' Club. "Starbuck does not love me and I will get over him. And I won't let him use me ever again!"

"Fine," Bree shrugged, letting the subject drop.

"Good," Dietra agreed.

"We'll see," Rigel smiled. "But we'll be here if you need us."

"Thanks. Now can we change the subject?" Athena pleaded.

"So, do you think I can get Mirak to ask me out?" Bree asked.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Starbuck sighed and stood up. He had been sitting in the celestial dome for centars trying to get his thoughts and emotions in order. Now, all he wanted to do was take out his laser and shoot himself in the foot for being so blind.

It was all so simple. It had been right there in front of his face. For yahrens. Probably for sectars. Certainly for sectons. Ever since his blow up with Apollo.

Now, finally, after yahrens of wishing he discovered who his parents were only to discover that his father hadn't wanted to claim him, or that's what he had believed at first. He had also discovered that the first woman he dared to commit himself to fully had been deceiving him all along. And then he practically molested a sleeping Athena right after he had concluded he wasn't really attracted to her romantically. He wondered if he could be more blind?

Yet, out of all the betrayal and lies, he had finally discovered the largest deception of all had been his own on himself.

For sectars he had told himself that Cassiopeia was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with and that once they reached Earth he would do so. He had told himself and others that he was fully committing himself to making that relationship work, yet had he really?

Ignoring the artificial time limitation he had created, just a few sectons ago, when given the opportunity, he had given into the temptation of Athena's body. To touch her, to taste her, to feel her against him again was something he had denied himself for so long. Placed within his reach, literally, he had to do it and for those centons he had wanted nothing more than to hear her breathless murmur of his name and her answering desire on his fingers. On his body. To be inside her all he could think about. To hear and feel her ecstasy surround him his only thought.

There had been no thought of Cassi then.

Even today, right after he had supposedly figured out that Cassi was still the woman he wanted and that Athena was merely a game he hadn't been able to give up, he had pressed her against his body and yet again been unable to resist touching her. Unable to fight the flaming desire coursing through his body as she lay vulnerable and trusting against his chest. Unable to stop himself from feeling her under his hands.

Even as he ran back to Cassi to propose getting sealed.

Even now, after the emotionally turbulent and horrible cycles he had just lived through, his lips tingled and his body surged at the thought of Athena looking up at him with passion flaring in her deep blue eyes. Eyes that reminded him of the Caprican sky. The idea of her lying beneath him, naked and open and confessing her love, was making him tremble.

Unconsciously, Starbuck rubbed his palm against his arousal.

Desire. He could lay it all on desire and leave it at that. But now was the cycle for all truths to be laid bare.

It wasn't desire that led him to her door shortly after confronting Cassi and Chameleon's deceit. It wasn't desire that threw him into Cassi's protective arms after Athena's stinging refusal of his fumbled proposal. It wasn't desire that led him to attempt to reestablish a friendship with her sectars ago. It wasn't desire that made him flaunt his relationship with Cassi in her face for the past yahren.

So despite the betrayals that lay at his feet and despite his characteristic cynicism and defensiveness, for the first time since their world had been so brutally taken he could see a future ahead of him. A future that included a self that he had only hoped and imagined he could someday become.

Ironically, he had always thought finding his parents, or at least knowledge of them, would be the catalyst for the person he truly wanted to be - a secure man who knew where he belonged outside the close confines of a viper and amongst his few trusted friends. But when he finally discovered his father, it was only to be told his father hadn't wanted the responsibility to make him a whole person, to raise a son in a few centons. So, as promised, he would go to dinner with Chameleon and they would begin to bridge the distance and betrayals between them. No, it wasn't finding his father that opened this future to his heart, it was the words he said to Chameleon that opened that door.

"Love is not about lies and deception. Love is about trust and truth and not walking away."

He, Lieutenant Starbuck, avowed ladies man and gambler had uttered those very words not too long ago. It was as if a treasured goal had been reached, as if a veil had been lifted from his soul and as if someone had handed himself as a reward for his struggle.

Yet, the struggle wasn't over. While he may have figured out what his true destiny was, there was no guarantee that it wasn't too late to take a hold of it.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"I can't believe you're going to be a mother," Dietra told Athena. "It's so unreal! You won't be able to slum around with us anymore."

"Of course I will!" Athena protested. "I'll just need more advance notice and sometimes I won't. I'm not joining a virgin sect or something on another ship!"

"Still, it is so weird. If you had gotten sealed and stuff first, this is sort of backwards," Bree pointed out. "Not that there's anything wrong with it. I think it's really sweet. We just had no warning. Noah is a wonderful little boy though. I can hardly resist him."

"You can't resist any male," Dietra teased her wingmate. "It'll be nice to have bigger quarters I bet."

"I'll have to break in a new roommate, though," Rigel complained. "I mean, I've already gotten Athena just where I want her and I'll have to do it all over again."

"You could find a man or a child of your own and avoid all that," Athena teased. "There are plenty of children who need someone like you."

"I know," Rigel nodded. "I have been thinking about it since you brought us to the Orphan ship and revealed your plans. It's not a bad idea. There is a dearth of men these days, why should we have to wait to have children?"

"You do have a point," Dietra said thoughtfully. "But as pilots it might be...well, Apollo does it..."

"Girl, you are just too trend inspiring," Rigel teased.

"Oh please," Athena covered her face.

"Hey, at least this would be a worthwhile one," Bree pointed out.

"Not that forgetting to take off the really gaudy color Bree suggested you try on your lips before leaving the powder room on the Rising Star wasn't worthwhile," Rigel chuckled. "How hilarious was it to see almost every woman in the fleet wearing that same horrid color?"

"Hey, it looked good in the market," Bree defended. "Besides, Yalma sold out her entire stock and made a nice profit."

"And never made another batch," Athena laughed. "That was pretty funny."

"Does anyone else hear something outside the door?" Dietra put her feet on the floor and put her cup down.

"I didn't hear anything," Bree looked towards the door.

"Neither did I," Athena looked towards the door.

In the quiet the sounds of someone's steps could be clearly heard.

"Someone is walking by," Bree shrugged and looked away.

"No, they're not disappearing. Someone is pacing out there," Rigel stood up and walked towards the door.

"I bet that's Starbuck now," Athena joked.

Rigel pressed the button and opened the door and looked straight into the startled face of one Lieutenant Starbuck.

Athena's blue eyes widened as her heart sped up at the sight of him.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"So what are you going to do if Starbuck starts to date Athena again?" Tigh asked his old friend.

"Do? I'm not going to do anything, though I suspect you're right about that happening," Adama told his second-in-command as they sat alone in the War Room. Adama had awakened from his sleep cycle and returned to the Bridge and Tigh had just finished filling him on the events in the fleet before turning in for his own sleep cycle.

"Apollo isn't going to be thrilled," Tigh pointed out.

"I'm not to sure about that. I've gotten the impression that Apollo is actually supportive of those two getting back together," Adama told him.

"You're kidding? What about the battle they had outside the Bridge a couple of sectars ago?" Tigh asked dubiously.

"I think that's when Apollo changed his mind," Adama answered. "I don't know the details, but I think Apollo is remorseful for his behavior before the Destruction."

"Do you think Athena and Starbuck could work?" Tigh asked the father.

"They could...if both of them could stop worrying about what everyone else thinks," Adama said slowly. "They both seemed to have grown up a lot in the past yahren."

"What about Chameleon? I mean that's going to have a big impact on Starbuck," Tigh observed.

"But not necessarily a negative one in the end. Perhaps Starbuck finding what he has always searched for will make him rethink his goals and believe they're not all unreachable. Have faith my friend," Adama said sagely.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Well girls, we have patrol in a few cycles, might as well get some sleep," Dietra slammed her cup down on the table. "Athena, remember what we said. Come on Bree."

"I don't think we should leave her alone," Bree protested as Dietra pulled her by the hand out of her relaxed pose.

"She's armed," Dietra said as she looked at Starbuck with a warning glare on her face.

"I, uh, I didn't mean to interrupt," Starbuck stammered as he backed away from the door.

"No problem. Like Dee said, we need some sleep," Rigel gripped Starbuck's arm and pulled her into the room.

"Hi Starbuck, bye Starbuck," Bree said breathlessly as she tried to grab her jacket and not lose her arm. "Let go, Dee," she whined.

"Fine, we're going," Dee said menacingly to her wingmate before turning her attention to Starbuck. She looked at the flustered warrior for a few microns, expressing with her eyes what she knew Athena would kill her for saying out loud.

Starbuck clearly caught the threat as his cheeks flushed and all hint of hesitation disappeared from his posture. He was a warrior who never backed down from a challenge. It was all he needed to prepare for the coming confrontation.

"See you two later," Rigel broke the staring contest and herded the departing guests out of their quarters. "Sorry to hear about Cass," Rigel turned to Starbuck. "I'm going to get some sleep. Clean up will you Athena? Good cycle."

"Sure, fine, whatever," Athena said oddly as she began to pick up the empty cups and pitcher of grog.

Rigel smiled at the scene before she closed herself off in her bedchamber.

"Here," Starbuck murmured and took some of the load out of her hands. "I'll bring this down the corridor and be right back?"

"Yeah," Athena looked at Starbuck, her eyes finally beginning to clear. After Starbuck departed she began to pace the small area of her main room. 'I will not be taken in by him, he's here for a friend....I will not be taken in by him, I will not be taken in by him," she repeated to herself over and over again. Still, her heart clenched in her chest at the pain and determination evident, to her at least, in Starbuck's eyes..

"I thought you would be alone," Starbuck said quietly, halting Athena's frenzied pacing. "I didn't mean to ruin your fun."

"That's okay. We were all on the verge of falling asleep anyway," Athena dismissed his concerns with a wave of her hand.

"If you're tired, I can go," Starbuck said, but didn't move a muscle.

"Starbuck, you came all this way. You obviously need...someone to talk to about Cassi. And Chameleon," Athena sighed.

Starbuck's eyes widened at her mention of his father. "How did..." he started to ask.

"Tigh," Athena explained quickly. "He thought you might need a friend before Apollo and Boomer got back. I think he thinks more of our relationship than either of us do."

"What do you mean?" Starbuck stiffened.

"That came out wrong. I just meant that he seems to think we're closer than we actually have been for a long time," Athena said tiredly. "Let's sit down? I know I'm tired."

"Sure," Starbuck said, a frown on his face as he went over Athena's last comments. "I guess it is strange to you for me to be here to talk to you about this."

"About Cassi yes, about your father, no. Actually, I kind of expected you to..." Athena broke off and looked away, letting a shrug of her shoulders finish her thought for her.

"To what?" Starbuck settled his frame next to her, his hand settling centimeters from her hair across the back of the couch.

"To trust me to talk about Chameleon. It's an old topic for us, your family," Athena said stiffly, not bothering to mention her belief that he was also there for "comfort" about Cassi as well.

"It is," Starbuck leaned back, comfortable to fall into the old patterns of conversation between them. "I never thought I would really find my parents. I can't believe Cassi kept this from me. I can't believe _he_ did. You were the first person I thought of to share this with."

"Third, after Apollo and Boomer," Athena corrected.

"Perhaps, but only because I really have no right to be here. But to tell you the truth, you're the first person I wish I could turn to," Starbuck said softly as he lifted a few strands of her hair and began to twirl them around his fingers.

Athena ignored his statement and plunged directly to what she thought was the point of his visit. But she didn't pull away from him. "What was his explanation? I guess he didn't want you to abandon your life as you were recklessly prepared to do when you thought he might be your father."

"That's what he said," Starbuck sighed. "It doesn't excuse her deception, not for this long."

"So why did she break up with you?" Athena had to ask, resisting the urge to close her eyes as Starbuck's hand strayed to her neck and began stroking it.

"I don't really remember what she said," Starbuck admitted. "I was too angry to really listen. She thought that my kissing you a few sectons ago was indicative of my feelings for you, or rather my lack of feelings for her. Either. Both. I'm not sure. I'm not sure I really care."

"Oh," Athena looked at her hands with great interest as she tried to frame a response to that. She knew it wasn't because he had any real romantic feelings for her, but it was a pleasant fantasy for a quarter of a micron.

Even as she thought this, Starbuck's fingers began to slide up her head and against her scalp. A shiver ran down her spine.

"I think she was right," Starbuck said softly, moving his body until it was flush against Athena's side.

"What? About what?" Athena looked up, thinking she had imagined the words. As she turned her face she found her lips centimeters from Starbuck's lips. His breath caressed hers and a bolt of desire ran down her body.

"I think she was right, Athena," Starbuck repeated as he cupped the back of her head against his palm and placed his other hand against her cheek. "I know the timing stinks and you won't believe a word I say right now. But tonight, Cassi breaking up with me, finding my father, thinking about you, being near you again like...that, she's right Athena. My love for her was never as strong as it was for you. She and I, at first we were convenient. And I came to care for her a great deal. And she knew more about this relationship stuff than I did so I thought it could work. You and I...we both suck at this stuff. Or we did."

"Starbuck, what are you talking about?" Athena shivered again, but was unable to pull away from his almost embrace.

"I love you, Athena. I've never said those words to you before, but they're true," Starbuck spoke gently, his lips hovering almost against hers.

"Don't you dare use those words on me, Starbuck! Not now," Athena finally pulled away, her face red with anger. "I know you're upset and lonely. And I'm trying really, really hard to be your friend and overlook my feelings for you and what happened on the shuttle...don't you dare manipulate me like this!" Athena took a deep breath and tried to fight the tears of pain that threatened to fall from her eyes. "I deserve more than that from you! I'm not some consolation prize and you can't use me as revenge."

"That's not what this is about, Athena," Starbuck said in a shocked tone. He had expected her to be disbelieving, but not hurt by his admission. He placed both his hands on the sides of her face and turned her back towards him. "Look into my eyes, Athena. They've never lied to you. Not as long as I've lived. You've told me that hundreds of times."

"So what is this about then? I can't believe you've _suddenly_ had a revelation," Athena whispered as her eyes searched his for the truth he spoke of, even as she doubted him.

"It's about this," Starbuck said in a raspy voice before pressing his lips against hers. "I love you," he said as he plied her lips open and began to kiss her. His hands slid to the back of her head as she breathlessly gave into his expression of love and began to return it.

"Starbuck," he felt her say into his mouth.

His body trembled as he began to lay her back against the couch and he slid his body along hers. Despite the urgency of his passion, however, he was careful to keep his hands on her head.

After a few centons Starbuck pulled away, breathing heavily. He knew that if he didn't stop soon he would be unable to stop himself from seducing her. And if he did that, he knew, she would never trust him again.

Athena stood up and moved until most of the room separated them. With her chin held high and her arms crossed protectively over her chest she finally looked at him again.

"Why do you do this, Starbuck? So many times I've tried to be brave and strong. You've hurt me so much and I've tried to remain friendly, mostly because of Apollo and the rest of the family, but also because I thought you had some semblance of respect for me. But why do I think that? My brother and mother are killed and our world destroyed and all you can seem to think about is...I don't know what, maybe your ever-present loneliness that you use to push people away. I needed you to hold me so bad and you just walk into the arms of another woman. Now she leaves you and you want me back. And then you dare use those words and then...then...kiss me. How can you expect me to believe a word you say? Do I even need to recount how many times we've been down this trajectory?" Athena finished hoarsely.

Starbuck closed his eyes and swallowed his own tears. He wasn't sure how much more emotional upheaval he could stand in so short a time, but he had to bear it. This was the rest of his life he was fighting for now.

"Is it too late for me to hold you now?" he asked. "I won't try and seduce you. I promise."

"Oh God, Starbuck, why?" Athena's head dropped into her hands. "Why can't you just...just be my friend and stop using me?"

"I know the timing is suspicious. I know you can't trust me right now, but it's the truth and I've owed you this for a long time. I want to hold you now to try and make up for all the times I didn't before. Because I care about you too. Because I love you. I'll make you believe me."

"Maybe you will Starbuck, you've done it so many times before. And every single time you've turned and walked away as soon as I believe you!" Athena said angrily.

"How can I make you believe me? I'll do anything you say," Starbuck said almost pleadingly.

"Did you hear what I just said? You work so hard to make me trust you again and when I do you get bored. It's just a challenge to you. I don't think there's anything you could do now to make me believe you. You're hurting and you're scared, I understand that Starbuck. I more than anyone understands. I'm asking you now, please don't do this to me. I won't forgive you again," Athena said in an exhausted voice.

"I know that I've hurt you in the past, Athena, but I swear it's not like that this time. Wait, I won't mention this again right now. I'll give both of us some time. This won't go away Athena, I won't just go away. Not this time. I _will_ find some way to convince you I'm worth your faith, no matter how long it takes and we will be sealed," Starbuck said earnestly.

"I found my father, Athena," he walked up to her still figure and put his hands on her face. "My father. Lords of Kobol. I found him. I've always thought once I had my parents everything would fall into place for me. That I would feel whole. But it didn't make me feel that way Tena, because while I was having my insides torn out, that something was missing. You were missing. You weren't there to share it with me.

"When I went to see him, I was so hurt and angry that he lied to me, that he rejected me. I was yelling at him. I was, and you'll get a kick out of this, explaining to him what love is. Do you know what I said? I said love was truth, trust and not walking away. Me! It's almost poetic!" Starbuck smiled gently.

"We haven't gotten the not walking away part down all the way, but we've always been there for each other in the end. We just need to work on the timing and trust. I have given you the truth. I love you. I can't be whole without you. I just need you to have faith in me again," he bared his soul as he had never done before. As he never had to before.

"I can't, Starbuck. There's no place in my life for this uncertainty and instability. I'm going to be a mother, Starbuck. My son deserves better," Athena clasped his hands and pulled them from her face.

"You're what?" Starbuck's jaw dropped open.

"I'm adopting Noah," Athena couldn't help chuckling at the jealous and confused expression on his face.

"Oh," Starbuck sighed. "Congratulations, to both of you. He's a lucky little boy."

"No, I'm the lucky one," Athena shook her head as a contented smile transformed her face. "I'm the lucky one."

"I'll be here to help you, if you ever should need it," Starbuck squeezed her hands, which were still entwined with his. "I'll back off for now, but I won't be far. Have a good sleep Athena." With those words Starbuck leaned in and kissed Athena's cheek.

"You too," Athena said after Starbuck had left.

Outside the door Starbuck closed his eyes and squared his shoulders.

This was Athena. The girl he had watched grow into a woman. Always Athena. Even when he didn't realize it. Even when he didn't want it. When he refused to want her.

"It's always been her," Starbuck whispered to himself.

She always told him the truth, even when he didn't want to hear it. He trusted her implicitly. Even after she turned down his sloppy proposal and he feared that she would hurt him again, it hadn't been because he didn't trust her. It was because he didn't know she loved him and because he wasn't ready to admit he loved her. And walking away? In one way or another they had both walked away from each other, yet somehow they always found their way back.

He walked away from her in the locker room, stung by her words of rejection and selfishly ignoring her despair. She walked away from him to stop them from destroying their then-fragile friendship with their romantic games. And he walked away from her for the safe haven of Cassi's arms and knowing ways. And recently she had walked away because she still loved him and didn't want to interfere with his happiness.

"One out of three," Starbuck chuckled to himself as he recounted what he had given Athena in return. "I've given her trust. Now I need to give her the truth and prove that I won't walk away from her, ever again. And that I won't let her walk away from me!"

"I love you," Starbuck said to the closed door before heading down the corridor.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"You look well rested," Caphis commented as Athena stepped into his office.

"I might say the same for you. I didn't expect you to be back here so early," Athena said questioningly. Despite, or because of the tumultuous events of the past cycles, Athena had fallen into a deep sleep the moment her head hit her cushion.

"Omega had duty," Caphis shrugged. "So what can I do for you?"

"There's something I want to ask you, well, discuss with you. It's about Noah," Athena said hesitantly.

"Sit down," Caphis came out from behind his desk and waved her into a chair before sitting down in the chair facing hers. "You want to adopt him."

"I'm beginning to think I'm the most transparent person in the fleet," Athena said good-naturedly. "Yeah, that's about it. Do you think I'm rushing things?"

"Not really. Most people come here without ever meeting a child and pick one to take home with them. I can't fault them for their desire to give the children a home, but I do prefer they get to know them first. In fact, I insist on it. You've known Noah for over a sectar and a half and you two have been taken with each other since the first micron. I just need to make sure that you know the full implications of this undertaking. The responsibility, the commitment. And I need to make sure...I don't want to insult you, but I need to make sure that this isn't just because you're lonely and if you had a boyfriend..."

"I do understand. I don't know how to explain it, but I do know. Partly from being a teacher, partly from caring for Boxey and partly because I've always wanted to be a mother. I just know that Noah and I were...'meant for each other' is the best description I can think of. I just know it, in my heart and soul," Athena smiled softly. "I've realized that Noah has things in common with Starbuck and I've given that a lot of thought and I can honestly say that I'm not using him to take Starbuck's place. If I had to choose between them, I would choose Noah. He is my son, no matter that it's not official yet. Noah is filling an empty space in my heart, but it's a space he belongs in and no one else."

Caphis studied her for a few centons before speaking. "I believe you. I've watched you with him and the other children. I have no problem approving this. I just had to ask and see if you knew."

"Thank you," Athena said with tears in her eyes. "How soon can he come live with me?"

"Well, we need to ask Noah first, but I don't think he'll have an objection. As far as I'm concerned he can go this cycle, but I'm sure there are arrangements you need to make on the Galactica first, housing, scheduling, for instance. Then we'll have the formal adoption procedures," Caphis explained. "But he can stay with you before that. The courts have no right to object unless the adopter is unfit, which I would never allow anyway."

"That's wonderful! I do have arrangements to make, but those shouldn't take long. And I need to tell my family," Athena chuckled. "Can we talk to Noah this cycle?"

"Let me have him sent over," Caphis stood up and walked to the comm. "When you get sealed, your husband wouldn't have to formally adopt him."

"That is not something even on the horizon right now," she chuckled, refusing to allow Starbuck's ardent promises of the cycle before or upon waking up in his arms intrude on her inner peace.

"You never know," Caphis raised his eyebrows at her.

"So have you and Omega worked those things out yet?" Athena asked.

"Actually," Caphis' features settled into a brilliant smile. "I'm going to be moving to the Galactica myself, at least part time. Omega and I will stay here when he can actually escape."

"That's wonderful!" Athena clapped her hands together. "I'm so happy for you both! Am I invited to a sealing soon?"

"We haven't gotten that far yet, we have yahrens to catch up on first," Caphis held up his hands with a laugh. "Slow down."

"You never know," Athena shot his words back at him. "Sometimes things happen fast and you just have to have faith."

<><><><><><><><><><>

"You look like something a daggit dragged in," Apollo clapped Starbuck on the back as he joined his wingmate for the morning cycle meal in the Mess Hall. "Spend the rest of the evening in the gaming rooms?"

"Not quite," Starbuck sighed and sat back in his seat.

"What?" Apollo said as he perceptively heard something more behind his friend's short statement.

"I'm not even sure where to begin," Starbuck sighed.

"How about at the beginning?" Apollo said gently.

"Cassi and I are over, I guess that's the beginning," Starbuck shrugged.

"Are you sure? I mean, it wasn't just a fight?" Apollo asked carefully.

"No, it wasn't just a fight. She's leaving, going to the Science Ship. I can't say I'll be sorry to see her go," Starbuck said in a voice tight with anger.

"You don't mean that," Apollo shook his head doubtfully.

"Chameleon is my father," Starbuck looked Apollo dead in the eye.

Apollo's jaw dropped open, not for a micron did he doubt the seriousness of his friend's revelation. One of the few things Starbuck didn't make light of was his parentage.

"She lied to me, he lied to me. All this time," Starbuck said, the wealth of hurt apparent to his best friend.

"Why?" Apollo was stunned by Starbuck's accusations. Not once did he ever question Cassiopeia's honesty or caring for his friend.

"Chameleon asked her to. He said that he believed all my wild ramblings about deserting my job and my life to be with him. She should have known better. She definitely should have told me long before now," Starbuck slammed his fist on the table, drawing the attention of the warriors around them.

Apollo remained silent until he managed to glare off the attention. "She told you this when she said she was leaving?" Apollo worked hard to process everything, but it wasn't easy considering how little sleep he had gotten in the past couple of days.

"I'm stunned. I'm sorry I wasn't here for you," Apollo said sincerely.

"Not _that_ sorry," Starbuck said with a leer.

"Well," Apollo felt his cheeks turn red, which only made them turn redder.

"I can't believe you still blush," Starbuck chuckled.

"Glad I could make you laugh," Apollo said good-naturedly.

"You do, you do. Not an easy feat this cycle. Listen, I have something I need to do," Starbuck rose from the table. "I'll meet you at the bay."

"Do you need any help?" Apollo made to rise.

"No, no," Starbuck stood up and shook his head. "It's nothing important. I'll see you there."

"Sure, buddy. Listen, do you want to keep this quiet?" Apollo asked as he eyed Boomer heading their way.

"You can tell Boomer. See you later," Starbuck walked away.

"What's going on?" Boomer sat down in Starbuck's vacated seat.

"You're not going to believe this," Apollo started to explain.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Did I do something wrong?" Noah asked as soon as he walked into Caphis's office.

"No, no," Caphis laughed. "Athena and I just wanted to talk to you for a few centons."

"Athena!" Noah saw her standing nervously on the other side of the room and launched himself into her arms.

"Hi sweetheart," Athena laughed as she wrapped her arms around his small body. "You have a good early cycle meal?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Noah said with a normal child's roll of his eyes. "What do you need to talk to me about?" Noah suddenly sounded fearful.

"It's nothing bad, I promise," Athena took his hand and led him to the couch. She waited to continue until he was seated. "Caphis wants to speak to you alone first. I want you to be honest with him."

"Of course," Noah agreed, but his eyes still showing that he was scared and was trying to be brave.

"I'll be right back," Athena assured him before she stood up and left the room.

Caphis took her place on the couch and smiled at Noah, trying to put him at ease.

"What's wrong?" Noah's blue eyes were wide as he looked up at the large man who had settled on the couch next to him.

"Nothing is wrong," Caphis tried to assure the small boy again. "I just have a few questions for you."

"Then how come Athena had to leave?" Noah asked suspiciously.

"Because I want you to feel free to be honest with me and not worry about hurting her feelings," Caphis stopped hesitating. "Do you understand? Anything you say to me we can keep secret here. Okay?"

"Oh, okay," Noah's eyes narrowed suspiciously, but at least his fear was gone.

"Would you like to go live with Athena?" he asked.

"You mean leave here?" Noah's eyes widened, this time in surprise.

"Yes. Athena has asked if she could adopt you. The decision is yours. We can even do a trial period if you want," Caphis told him.

"She wants to take me home? To the Galactica? To live with her? And Apollo and Starbuck? Really? She said that?" Noah jumped off the couch in his excitement.

"Yes, she really did. She cares for you a great deal. She loves you and she wants you to come live with her. You don't have to," Caphis confirmed Noah's understanding.

"I want to go," Noah straightened his back, as if he was already on a military ship. "But will she be my new mother?"

"In a way. You still remember your mother?" Caphis pulled Noah back onto the couch.

"Uh huh," Noah nodded and shrugged.

"I'm sure Athena doesn't want to take her place. She just wants to care for you. I'm sure she wouldn't mind if you continued to call her Athena if you want," Caphis assured him.

"I don't want to hurt her feelings. What if she doesn't want me then?" Noah asked fearfully.

"Why don't we ask her? Do you want me to ask for you?" Caphs suggested, knowing that nothing he said would reassure him. Noah nodded and Caphis rose and went to call Athena back into the room.

A tense postured young woman walked hesitantly into the room and smiled nervously at Noah. She looked to Caphis to lead the discussion.

"I've asked Noah if he wants to come live with you and have you adopt him and he does, but he has some concerns," Caphis opened the conversation. "Noah remembers his parents and he doesn't want to forget them. At the same time he doesn't want to hurt your feelings if he didn't call you 'mom.' He wants to make sure that you're comfortable with that."

Athena swallowed back a lump in her throat as she moved forward to kneel in front of Noah who was sitting quietly on the couch. "Noah," she clasped his hands. "I do not want you to forget your parents or to take their place. If you want to continue calling me Athena, it wouldn't hurt my feelings. I lost my mother too and I wouldn't want anyone to try and take their place. No matter what you call me I would be honored to have you come live with me," Athena said gently. "Do you want to?"

"Yes!" Noah exclaimed and threw himself into her arms.

Athena closed her arms around the boy and held him tight. Her eyes closed and a lone tear fell down her cheek.

Caphis looked on with a satisfied smile.

<><><><><><><><><><>
Galactica Mess Hall

"Wow, I would never have thought Cassi..." Boomer was surprised by Apollo's revelations. "How is Starbuck taking all this?"

"Pretty well. Or so he's making it seem. I'm not really sure, truth be told," Apollo said in confusion. "I would have expected him to be much angrier than he was, but if he is, he's hiding it well even from me."

"Maybe he's had some time to calm down?" Boomer said doubtfully. "So this all happened just last cycle? Man, I wish we had been here."

"Me too," Apollo sighed. "I hate to imagine him dealing with this alone. I'm just relieved he didn't do anything rash."

"Nothing we've heard about anyway. Well, he knows if he needs to talk," Boomer sighed, knowing that Starbuck sometimes found it hard to discuss things like this even with them.

"So tell me about your latest date with Rena?" Apollo changed the subject.

Boomer sat back with a grin on his face. "What can I say, she's as wonderful as I thought she would be," he spread his hands out in front of him and shrugged.

"That means it's going well, I take it," Apollo was happy for his friend.

"Very well," Boomer confirmed. "She's coming to our next Triad match, which is in a day. Do you think Starbuck will be up to it?"

"Starbuck miss a match? I didn't think anything could keep him away...but now I'm not sure. He's having late cycle meal with Chameleon this night cycle. We have practice scheduled for later after patrol, but we both forgot to confirm it. I'll have to ask him," Apollo sighed and fiddled with his cup.

"You're worried about him aren't you?" Boomer concurred in that feeling.

"You know how much finding his parents has always meant to him. Look how crazy he got when Chameleon first floated the possibility that he might be Starbuck's father. Yeah, I'm worried," Apollo confirmed.

"Me too," Boomer agreed. "Have you seen Athena today?"

"No, I haven't seen her since the Rising Star," Apollo shook his head. "Have you?"

"Yeah, briefly. She bailed on working out this cycle, she was heading for the Orphan Ship," Boomer informed him, but was hesitant to reveal what else she had said.

"What's going on Boomer?" Apollo asked curiously.

"I think you'd better talk to your sister, that's all I can say," Boomer said evasively.

Apollo looked at his friend carefully. "You'd tell me if she was in trouble, right?"

"Of course," Boomer prevaricated a little.

"So I shouldn't worry?" Apollo crossed his arms.

"Definitely nothing to worry about," Boomer assured him.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Perhaps I shouldn't broach this while you can shoot me down, but I thought it safer than if you could get your hands around my neck, again," Starbuck said hesitantly a half centar after launch.

"What?" Apollo asked apprehensively.

"I love her," Starbuck said softly.

"I'm sorry, Starbuck. I wish there was something I could to make this easier," Apollo said sympathetically.

"Not Cass," Starbuck said carefully. "I mean I cared about her a great deal, I guess I loved her in a way, but I'm not talking about her."

"Then who are you talking about?" Apollo sounded confused, but inside he was almost certain that Starbuck was finally going to acknowledge his feelings for his sister.

"Athena. I love Athena," Starbuck finally spit it out.

A grin spread across Apollo's face. "You love Athena?" he repeated in an expressionless tone. "And when did you decide this?"

"After I got back from the Senior ship. I know it sounds crazy, just as crazy as me throwing myself into Cassi's arms right after proposing to Athena for the first time, but it's not rebound Apollo. I've always loved her. I just didn't want to admit it," Starbuck rushed to explain to the woman in question's brother.

"The first time?" Apollo asked, this time his surprise was genuine. "When was the other?" Apollo had hoped, even expected Starbuck to begin to realize his feelings for Athena when the pain of Cassi's leaving began to fade. He never thought it would have happened so soon. With a pounding heart he realized that his sister wouldn't believe him under these circumstances. He hoped Starbuck hadn't said anything to Athena yet. It did, however, explain how Starbuck dealt with everything so well last cycle while he and Boomer were gone.

"Last cycle," Starbuck said carelessly.

"I'll bet she didn't believe you," Apollo sighed over the comm.

"Of course she didn't believe me. She accused me of trying to use her to get over Cass _and_ as revenge. I wasn't thinking too clearly then," Starbuck sounded frustrated with himself.

"I could see how she would think that," Apollo sounded as if he agreed with his sister's point of view, and despite his certainty that Starbuck did love Athena, he had to be sure that Starbuck actually realized it and wasn't just reacting to the emotional events of the past few cycles.

"Yeah, I should have left it alone for a while and regained her trust first, but I just had to tell her," Starbuck admitted. "I do love her, Apollo, this isn't just...well, it is a reaction to everything that happened. You have to believe me. When I realized how Cassi and Chameleon had deceived me, I was furious. Not to mention when Cass told me she was just up and leaving with no prior discussion or anything. I was furious! If I hadn't already spent time in the brig and been on trial for murder..." Starbuck trailed off meaningfully.

"You and Boomer weren't around, the only other person I could think of that I could talk this out with was her. Then I realized she was the only other person I knew I could trust never to do this to me. Then I realized how crazy I've been the past sectons with Athena not being around and how much I've missed her," Starbuck let out a breath.

"Apollo, I've been insane since she turned down my proposal. I never stopped loving her and know I know she loves me. I just have to prove to her that I mean it this time!" Starbuck vowed.

"I wish you luck," Apollo said sincerely.

"You do?" Now it was Starbuck who sounded surprised.

"I do. I've felt terrible about how I came between you before. This time I promise to do everything I can to help you," Apollo said.

"Um, how about you just stay out of it?" Starbuck said in a pained voice.

"I think I can handle that. I'm not much of a matchmaker," Apollo chuckled. "But seriously, I am sorry about Cassiopeia, but I am relieved you found all this out before you got sealed."

"You and me both," Starbuck agreed heartily. "I can't believe I'm looking forward to being sealed."

"Well, this might be one of our last patrols with you as a living man," Apollo couldn't resist teasing Starbuck about the latter's comments before he and Serina had been sealed.

"Don't go getting all sappy on me, Captain," Starbuck chuckled. "But if you like, we can go looking for new bed coverings."

"Oooh, I can't wait," Apollo said sarcastically. "Speaking of sealing, I have some news."

"Finally. Some people are just naturally slow, doesn't mean they're stupid, just slow," Starbuck didn't sound one bit of surprised. If anything, he was amused.

"I've heard that before," Apollo commented.

"So have you set a date?" Starbuck asked.

"I need to speak with Boxey first," Apollo told him. "How do you think he'll react."

"He loves Sheba. I think he'll be fine," Starbuck said confidently. "Have faith. And congratulations."

"I thought I was supposed to be telling you to have faith about now," Apollo sighed.

"We all know I'm the better friend," Starbuck joked.

"Oh yeah," Apollo said dryly. "I forgot for a centon."

"Good thing I'm around to remind you," Starbuck chuckled.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Athena was smiling broadly when she spotted Jack coming down the corridor towards her.

"I thought you might be here," Jack said stiffly. "I need to speak with you."

"Yes, of course," Athena said as seriously as she could, inside she was fighting back curiosity and her own happiness. Jack's stiffness could either mean things went well on the Rising Star, or that they completely backfired.

"Last night, after you left..." Jack began to speak as soon as they were alone in an empty classroom. "Oh, how's your head, I forgot to ask."

"It's fine now, Jack," Athena said quickly, wanting him to hurry up before she just asked him outright what had happened with Rhys. Besides, he knew it had been a ruse. 'He must be more upset than I had thought,' she realized worriedly.

"Good, good," Jack sounded distracted again and began to pace. "I'm a legist, I should be better at this, but I've always hated personal confrontation..."

Athena was this close from personally confronting him!

"After you left the club, Marty never returned and then Caphis and Omega left, well Rhys and I decided to make a cycle of it. We danced together a bit, we talked and laughed. We both got tired and decided not to head back and got a room. We could only get one. I don't know how it happened, Athena," Jack finally turned to face her.

Athena bit her lip so her smile wouldn't be obvious.

"I made love to her, Athena. I'm so sorry. I know we didn't really have a commitment, but she's your friend and I shouldn't have..." Jack was struggling with his words.

"Jack, you and I are not meant to be anything but friends. While we probably could have some fun, there's someone out there with whom you do have a shot. I love Starbuck and I may never get over that. Let Rhys heal you. You love her don't you?" Athena asked, letting her happiness show through.

"Yes, I do. I didn't even realize it until I kissed her. I know sometimes we run around in circles until something happens that makes you realize how you felt all along," Jack smiled at her.

Athena thought back to the sight of Cassiopeia in Starbuck's arms after his return from the baseship. 'Yes,' she thought, 'sometimes it just hits you.'

"You're a great friend, Athena, thank you for understanding," Jack clasped her hands in his.

"Jack, for the record, I didn't really have a headache last night cycle. I was trying to throw you two together. I saw how you looked at her, and I knew she loved you too," Athena admitted.

"You are an amazing woman, Athena. Starbuck is a fool if he doesn't see the amazing woman in his life," Jack caressed Athena's cheek. "I have a strong feeling things will work out for you."

"Just make sure one or both of you call me and tell me what happens," Athena sighed. Why did everything and everyone have to remind her about Starbuck today? For one day she wanted to be able to forget him!

"You'll be the first one we call," Jack promised.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"What's wrong Boxey?" Athena asked as she met her nephew as he left their classroom.

"Nothing," Boxey said in a sullen manner.

"Don't tell me nothing," Athena said as they walked down the corridor.

"It's Dad," Boxey said reluctantly.

"What about him?" Athena thought she had an idea of what was troubling her nephew.

"He didn't have to work last night but he spent the evening on the Rising Star with Sheba!" Boxey admitted to what was bothering him.

"Don't you like Sheba?" she asked.

"Sure, but he's been spending a lot of time with her. She's always around. We haven't spent time alone in sectons," Boxey was upset.

Athena stopped walking and knelt down to face him. "Your Dad and Sheba are a couple now. It's new to them so they're being all...silly," Athena couldn't find a better way to explain how people acted when they first fell in love.

"They're in love. I know. I know. But is he ever going to have time just for me?" Boxey asked in a quiet voice.

"Of course he is," Athena ruffled his hair slowly. "He's just trying to see if Sheba is someone that he wants to spend a lot of time with in the future and whether you welcome her as a family member too. Your opinion matters a lot to him. He just wants all to work out."

Boxey sighed. While he sort of understood how adults worked, it didn't stop him from being jealous. "Is he going to be sealed to her?" he finally asked.

"I'm not sure, but I hope so. Do you not want him to?" Athena asked.

"No, she makes Dad happy, but...I don't need a new mother, Aunt Athena," Boxey said as tears filled his eyes.

Athena felt a stab in her heart at his heartbroken words. These times were so hard on the children, it was so easy for the adults to forget that their lives were even scarier than their own. "Sheba doesn't want to make you forget Serina. I can promise you that. She just wants to make you and Apollo happy. I think she can do that," Athena told him.

"I think so too," Boxey shrugged. "I just don't want him to forget about me."

"Your father will never forget about you. None of us will. We all love you and each other. Do you know how lucky we all feel to have you as part of our family?" Athena asked him.

"You do?" Boxey looked up at her.

"We do. We're kind of funny sometimes, but I think we're a pretty good bunch," Athena smiled at him.

"Yeah. We are kind of funny. I guess it won't be so bad to have Sheba around more. Even if she does become my stepmother," Boxey smiled back. "She does make him more fun."

Athena chuckled at his logic. "I have something I need you to help me with," she told him.

"What?" Boxey's interest was piqued. What could an adult need his help with, he wondered.

"Remember Noah?" Athena asked him.

"Of course!" Boxey rolled his eyes. As if he would forget.

"How do you feel about him coming to live with me on the Galactica?" she broached the subject slowly.

"He would be my...cousin?" he asked. "That would be cool!"

"I think so too. In order for him to live with me, though, I need to pick out new quarters where we can both live. Do you want to help me? You can tell me what he would like," Athena propositioned him.

"Right now? How about the one next door to me and Dad?" Boxey suggest eagerly.

"I was thinking the same thing, but I think you should look it over and see if a kid would like it," Athena said with serious intent.

"Okay, I can show you," Boxey grabbed her hand and began to rush down the hall.

"Hang on!" Athena exclaimed as she tried to stand up and not stumble as he hurried on.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Have you spoken with Boxey yet?" Sheba asked as soon as Apollo appeared.

"Yes," Apollo smiled down at his fiancŽ. "We're going to be late for dinner."

"Don't you dare!" Sheba pulled on his hand, refusing to budge from the corridor leading to the women's barracks. "Tell me!"

"Bossing me around already," Apollo teased as he swept her into his embrace. "He's very happy for us."

"I'm so relieved," Sheba buried her face in his shoulder.

"What were you so worried about?" Apollo laughed.

"Don't be so smug. You were worried that he might be upset," Sheba smacked him lightly on the arm.

"He has been sullen for the past few days," Apollo admitted. "But when I told him he was genuinely pleased. He also informed me that we'll be having another new member of our family. Not that you're exactly new."

"Who?" Sheba looked at him curiously.

"Noah. Apparently my sister is moving forward with the adoption already. Boxey helped her pick out quarters this mid-cycle. Right next to us I might add," Apollo told her.

"So soon? When you're sister is determined to do something that doesn't involve Starbuck, she doesn't hesitate. I have to give her credit for that. It'll be good for Boxey to have his cousin and his aunt so close. How do you feel about this?" Sheba asked as they began to head for Adama's.

"I'm not sure. I'd like to see my sister do this in the conventional way of course, but if this makes her happy, who am I to argue?" Apollo shrugged philosophically.

"Oh yeah, you never tell her what to do," Sheba rolled her eyes. "I think this is good for her. I've never seen her so...content than she's been since she met this little boy. And he is completely adorable."

"Another point I can't argue with. Both points actually. I think Athena will make a great mother. I have some news for you as well," Apollo informed her.

"Oh? Something that competes with all this other news?" Sheba queried.

"Starbuck has informed me that he's in love with Athena and is determined to win her back," Apollo said lightly.

"He what? You don't believe him do you?" Sheba was shocked.

"What do you mean? I thought you agreed with me?" now Apollo was surprised.

"I do, but Starbuck deciding this now so soon after Cassi left him...it's seems more like his old pattern of running to your sister to avoid things. Remember what happened when Aurora showed up? She'll never believe him anyway. Why do you?" Sheba asked.

"I had the same hesitation, but I do believe him. I think he believes himself this time. Of course, proving it to Athena will not be an easy task, especially since he's already informed her of his intentions," Apollo disclosed.

"Well, if I were going to advise him not to do anything, that was it! She'll never believe him now. And just because...wait, he already said something to Athena? When?" Sheba sighed.

"Apparently right after he went to see Chameleon," Apollo explained.

"I hope she's too busy with Noah over the next few sectons for Starbuck to pressure her," Sheba said doubtfully. "Otherwise he's going to push her away."

"So I tried to tell him, but Starbuck on a mission is not easily deterred," Apollo reminded her. "I can only hope he'll adopt some strategy."

"Your sister is not a mission," Sheba said dryly. "And don't forget that just because Cassi may have called it quits with him doesn't mean he doesn't have feelings for her still and isn't using Athena to bury them."

"We'll just have to have faith. I'm not getting involved this time," Apollo crossed his arms.

"I can tell," Sheba rolled her eyes.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Everyone at the table couldn't help looking at the empty seats that stood in sharp contrast to past dinners. Cassi's usual seat was empty and would likely not be refilled, not with that woman again. Starbuck's seat was similarly empty as he was on the Senior Ship dining with his newly discovered parent. Athena's seat was also empty. The last fact was to be remedied shortly after the meal was served when Athena came rushing into the room.

"Sorry I'm late," Athena apologized and went to take her seat at the foot of the table. A quick glance, however, reminded her of their missing companions and she quickly took a seat closer to her father. "I had some things to take care of before the meal."

"So we gather," Apollo looked at his sister with raised eyebrows. "Are you planning to tell us what's going on?"

"Sounds like you already know big brother," Athena chuckled at Apollo's sarcasm.

"It's still nice to hear it from your lips," Adama interrupted his children's bickering.

Athena and Apollo shared grins before she responded to her father's prodding. "As of tomorrow, I will be a mother. I have adopted Noah and he will be coming to live with me," she said with a proud smile.

"And living next door to us," Apollo rolled his eyes as if the prospect bothered him.

"You'd think they were still children," Boomer commented to Adama and Sheba.

"They _are_ still children," Sheba told him, earning a chuckle from Adama.

"Don't you have some news, brother?" Athena propped her chin up on her hands.

"Get your elbows off the table," Apollo shot back.

"Nice stall," Athena commented even as she obeyed him and dropped her arms to her lap.

"So what is this announcement, Son?" Adama asked his son.

"Um, well," Apollo stood up awkwardly. "Sheba and I have decided to be sealed."

"Congratulations!" Adama leaned over and pressed a kiss against his future daughter's cheek. "Congratulations," he repeated as he stood up and proceeded to give his son a hug.

"Congratulations!" Adama leaned over and pressed a kiss against his future daughter's cheek. "Congratulations," he repeated as he stood up and proceeded to give his son a hug.

In the meantime, Sheba and Athena were embracing with Boxey stuck between them.

"So are you happy about this?" Athena whispered to her nephew after Sheba moved away to receive felicitations from Boomer.

"Yeah," Boxey nodded.

"Good," Athena ruffled his hair and looked up to find her brother waiting expectantly.

"Congratulations," Athena pulled her brother into her embrace. "I'm so very happy for you."

"And I'm happy for you," Apollo stroked her hair. "You're going to be a great mother, just ask Boxey."

"What do you mean?" Athena asked.

"Thanks for talking to him for us," he said quietly. "So are you going to put off transferring to pilot status now?"

"Actually, I've put it off for good. I don't want to be a viper pilot anymore," Athena informed her brother.

"What!" Apollo exclaimed in surprise, attracting everyone else's attention.

"I didn't think it was such big news," Athena looked around at the curious onlookers.

"Athena just told me she doesn't want to be a viper pilot anymore!" Apollo informed the rest of the family.

"I knew that," Sheba put her arm around her fiance's waist and smiled.

"Always the last to know," Apollo grumbled as he saw the unsurprised looks on both Adama and Boomer's faces.

"I think all these surprises call for some ambrosa!" Boomer declared.

"I think you're right Lieutenant," Adama agreed and opened a bottle he had sent up just for this occasion. Once everyone's glasses were filled he raised his glass for a toast. "To the new members of our family and the happiness they will bring us, to Sheba, Noah and Chameleon."

Everyone clinked glasses and took a sip to echo Adama's sentiment. Athena's gaze settled on Starbuck's empty seat. She had forgotten in all the excitement that Starbuck was dining with his newly acquired parent this cycle. With all the wonderful things that had already happened that day she had faith that it was going well.

 

 

<><><><><><><><><><>
I know you loved him baby celebrate who he was.
I know you've got to go on and live your life.
Go down to the river of the spirit that runs through you,
and lay yourself down in the healing waters.
<><><><><><><><><><>
Chapter 7 - Healing
<><><><><><><><><><>

Athena stood at the window in what would, in a couple of cycles, become Noah's room. Her arms were crossed across her chest as if she was trying to give herself a comforting hug. Her thoughts flitted between positive thoughts, such as how glad she was that Noah would have a window in his room, to how frightened she was at this almost impetuous undertaking.

Could she handle being a mother? Just a yahren ago she could barely commit to the man she had loved almost longer than she could remember. Now she was going to commit her life to a little boy. Her moods and feelings were not something that she could take the luxury of nursing. A little boy could not be expected to understand the need for space that people had from time to time. She was taking on a never ending responsibility. It wasn't like a job that she could leave after a couple of cycles. Was she up for this?

'Perhaps Cassi was partly right,' she thought with a quirky smile. 'I am adopting a little Starbuck!' A little boy was only marginally more demanding than that warrior.

With a hollow laugh she dropped her arms and rolled her head back. She had to get these feelings under control before the evening cycle. Instinctively she knew that Noah needed her to project certainty and security. She was, after all, the adult here. She chalked up another ironic realization. Athena would no longer be the "little sister" or "aunt" but the responsible parent.

"Now that's a scary notion," Athena told the empty room, silently completing her mental dissection. Before she could begin to put herself back together, however, the door announcer rang out.

"Come in," she called out. "It's unlocked." She turned and walked back into the main room just in time to catch sight of her brother entering. "Hey Apollo, Boxey asleep I take it?"

"He fell asleep almost as soon as we came back from dinner. He's not used to staying up so late and he probably won't ask to come to dinner again soon. Sometimes giving in is the best way to teach a child why you tell them to do something. I don't think it was quite as exciting as he had imagined. I'm sure you'll learn that for yourself soon enough," Apollo said with a bemused smile. "So another few cycles, huh? How are you doing?"

"What if I can't do this?" Athena asked her brother in a pained whisper.

"I thought you might be feeling this way," Apollo's smile faded and he nodded in acknowledgment of her expression of fear. "It wasn't too long ago that I stood where you did and it's my turn to return the favor and tell you that you're going to be a great parent and to remind you that you're not alone," Apollo gathered his sister into his embrace and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.

Athena sighed as her brother's faith in her began to drain away her fears. "Thanks," she mumbled into his shoulder.

"My pleasure," Apollo said as he continued to stroke her back. "I owed you one anyway."

"For what?" Athena looked up at her brother curiously.

"For talking to Boxey about Sheba," Apollo reminded her. "So is there anything else you want to talk about?"

"Not really," Athena reluctantly pulled out her brother's embrace. "But what did you have in mind?" Apollo had just opened his mouth to speak when the door chime rang again.

"Saved by the chime," Athena practically danced away from her brother. "That's probably Sheba. Come in," she called out. "Hi...," Athena trailed off as she recognized that her visitor was _not_ her future sister.

"Hi Starbuck, we were just about to talk about you," Apollo smirked and crossed his arms.

"Can I come in?" Starbuck looked expectantly at his friends.

"Sure," Athena glared at her brother and stepped away from the doorway so that Starbuck could enter.

"How was dinner with Chameleon, I mean your father?" Apollo asked as Starbuck took a seat on the couch-bed.

Athena's expression changed as she remembered the reason for Starbuck's absence at the family dinner that past cycle and she too looked at him curiously.

"You can call him Chameleon, I do. It seems a bit too late, or too soon, I'm not sure which, to call him 'Daddy'," Starbuck told them with a wry grin. "It was pretty great actually. He told me a lot about his...our family and my mother Orali. I don't think I've been this drained after a night cycle of pyramid, though," Starbuck ran a tired hand across his brow. Neither sibling could miss the glow in his blue eyes as he mentioned the heretofore unknown name of his mother.

Her own worries forgotten, Athena sat down next to him on the couch, took his hand between her own and pulled it into her lap. "Have you forgiven him for lying to you?" she asked quietly.

"Yes," Starbuck opened his eyes and looked at her. "I can't say I agree with his justifications, but we've agreed to put it behind us."

"Have you forgiven Cassi?" Apollo suddenly asked, reminding the pair that he was still in the room.

"Chameleon tried to explain away her part in all this, but....," Starbuck paused for at least a centon before gathering his thoughts. "I don;'t know if I can forgive her. She knew how much he meant to me and she kept it from me for sectars! I might never have...," Starbuck's hand tightened around Athena's hands and his face stiffened as he tried to suppress the pain and anger that was obvious to his oldest friends.. "It doesn't matter. She and I are over and we're _both_ getting on with our lives," he finished with a forced lightness.

Athena dropped Starbuck's hand back into his own lap and looked away. "Why don't we have something to drink? I'll go get something," she said hurriedly and left the room before either man could respond.

"Whoa," Apollo breathed as his sister flew out of the room.

"I think she doesn't want to discuss my love life," Starbuck observed almost humorously..

"Can't say I blame her...but I promised to stay out of this. However, I didn't agree I would chaperone. You're on your own here!" Apollo stood up and headed for the door.

"Must be a family thing," Starbuck remarked as Apollo practically sprinted for the door. "Please."

One word from his best friend was all it took to slow Apollo's steps.

"You know she'll kick me out if you're not here," Starbuck said almost too low for Apollo to hear.

But Apollo did hear his best friend's words and he silently turned back around and resumed his seat.

Starbuck, uncomfortable with his show of emotion, settled for communicating his gratitude with his deep blue eyes.

"So how did dinner really go?" Apollo cleared his throat and changed the subject.

"Strange. No magical appearances of the Lords of Kobol or anything, just a nice dinner with a man. I'd always imagined that somehow things would be...more...than they were," Starbuck tried to explain, but it was clear that words fell short of what he wanted to express. "But it felt right, like we belonged there together drinking ambrosa and discussing pyramid. I know it seems shallow, but it was...right."

Starbuck shook his head as he tried to put it all into perspective. "Hearing about my mother and about myself as a young kid was more than I had dreamed it would be though. I wish I could remember being a part of the stories he told me, but I just can't remember anything before running in the forest at Umbra. He doesn't have any pictures of my mother, but Chameleon says that I look a lot like her."

"What was she like?" Apollo asked.

"Intelligent and beautiful, that I can believe, she is _my_ mother," Starbuck quipped.

Apollo rolled his eyes.

"She was the daughter of a farmer and she and Chameleon grew up together. Apparently he was a merchant-trader in the community. He tells me he didn't start gambling and conning until after he lost us and his memory," Starbuck continued.

"But all that must be in the genes somewhere," Apollo remarked with a small smile.

"Can't argue with that," Starbuck said as he thought back to the stories Chameleon had told him over their long meal. "Do you think she's coming back?"

"Your mother?" Apollo said, startled.

"No," Starbuck laughed. "Your sister. She's been gone a bit longer than it would take to get us drinks."

"She lives here now, she has to return sometime," Apollo shrugged, he knew his sister probably wanted a few minutes to compose herself following the conversation they had been having when Starbuck surprised her. "So, uh..."

"Yeah," Starbuck understood his friend's unasked question. "I haven't changed my mind. You haven't changed yours have you?"

"No," Apollo assured him he still supported Starbuck's feelings for Athena.

"Have you and Sheba set a date yet?" Starbuck asked.

"Probably sooner rather than later. Boxey, thanks to my sister, is now excited about Sheba coming to live with us. In fact, he's now demanding a sibling. Preferably a brother," Apollo chuckled.

"Are you going to have more kids?" Starbuck looked intrigued by the idea.

"I'd be lying if I said the thought hadn't occurred to me, but Sheba and I haven't really discussed it yet. She'd have to give up flying, for a while anyway. Though, if it were up to me she'd give up permanently," Apollo confessed.

While Apollo was speaking, Athena returned.

"We thought you had gotten lost," Apollo commented as she placed a decanter of Ambrosa and three cups onto the table.

"I raided Father's stash," Athena confessed, ignoring her brother's not unexpected revelations about Sheba's flight status. "I thought we should celebrate, a little more."

"What are we celebrating? Not that I'm arguing with the sentiment?" Starbuck asked as he took over the honors and poured them all a measure of the altered liquid.

"Apollo's engagement, you finding your father and me becoming a mother," Athena smiled. "If all that doesn't deserve a celebration, we at least deserve a drink!"

"Can't argue with that," Starbuck passed out the cups.

"Here's to our new lives," Athena raised her glass, her eyes studiously avoiding Starbuck's meaningful look.

"To new beginnings," Starbuck said softly before he took a sip of his drink.

"To friendship," Apollo hid his smile behind the rim of his cup as he felt the mantle of guilt lift as his sister and best friend seemed unable to resist staring at each other.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"How does Jack figure into all this?" Apollo asked a centar later from his seat on the floor.

"Into what?" Athena looked at her brother, clearly surprised at the turn in conversation.

"The adoption, Noah," Apollo elaborated, asking the question that Starbuck longed to ask.

"Jack and I are no longer involved romantically, so basically nothing," Athena shrugged and took another sip of ambrosa, avoiding the gazes of the warriors sitting across from her.

"I'm sorry," Apollo said quietly.

"Don't be. Actually, there's been a rather interesting development regarding who he is involved with romantically," Athena said mysteriously.

"He's already involved with someone else?" Starbuck exclaimed censoriously.

Athena and Apollo paused in their conversation and gave Starbuck identical questioning looks. No words were needed to express their message - look who was talking!

Starbuck cleared his throat and motioned for them to continue their conversation.

Athena and Apollo shared a smile.

"Why would it be interesting?" Apollo asked.

"Rhys," Athena revealed. "Obviously they know each other professionally. She joined us for dinner on the Rising Star a couple of days ago and it just happened. Finally I might add."

"Wow," Apollo breathed sharply before all three of them fell into a companionable silence during which they recounted their memories of Rhys and Zac.

"Are you all right with this?" Apollo broke the silence some centons later.

Athena shrugged and developed a sudden interest in the contents of her cup. Though she hadn't told Apollo, Athena had to assume that Starbuck had told him just why she really was all right with this unexpected development. After Starbuck's own "revelation" a few cycles ago, however, it didn't seem like an intelligent idea to use that truth to reassure her brother. Not when she couldn't trust it.

"We had just started dating, it was too soon to be hurt," she said lamely, instead of explaining that she was still in love with Starbuck and no other man could really hurt her.

Starbuck, however, seemed to know what was on the tip of her tongue and stared at her unrelentingly, clearly daring her to expose herself before her brother.

Athena just flushed and looked away.

"It's not like we had been together for sectars or anything. So how are you doing Starbuck?" Athena threw the conversation into his court.

"I just toasted to new beginnings, Athena," Starbuck continued to stare into her eyes unrelentingly. "How do you think I'm doing?"

"And speaking of new beginnings, the new day has already begun and I have a big one ahead of me," Athena jumped up and began to clear away their debris, not so subtly dismissing her guests.

Taking the hint Apollo and Starbuck began to stand up, but not before they shared a meaningful look between them.

"Good cycle, Sis," Apollo leaned over and planted a kiss on his sister's averted cheek.

"You too," Athena fairly squeaked as she tried to sweep her guests out of her quarters.

"Don't try too hard," Apollo whispered along with a quiet goodbye to Starbuck before slipping out of the room.

Athena stopped what she was doing as soon as she heard the door close. She knew that Starbuck had remained behind, but she refused to look up at him. Or rather, her body refused to look at him and she wasn't so sure that her heart wasn't going to explode in her chest. All of this was something she had dreamed about for so long, but after all that had gone between them she couldn't believe it was sincere. She refused to endure another broken heart courtesy of Starbuck and yet she could never banish him from her life completely. Or, apparently, her quarters at that micron.

"Look at me," Starbuck ordered quietly.

Athena, against her better judgment, looked up.

The look in her eyes was not what Starbuck had expected. Instead of anger or hesitation, Starbuck saw a look of vulnerability that he never thought Athena-the-commander's-daughter would show him. His stomach dropped as he admitted that he wasn't sure whether this meant she was opening her heart to him or a signal that things between them were truly over and she would never trust him again.

"Give me a chance," Starbuck asked in a whisper.

"How many chances do you get Starbuck? I've lost count as to how many I've already given you," Athena said angrily, all signs of vulnerability suddenly closed off from his view.

"Just one more," Starbuck stood his ground.

"It's late, I'm tired and I really don't want to think about this," Athena told him almost pleading with him to let her be. "Right now," she amended when Starbuck refused to move.

"Good cycle Athena. You're going to be a wonderful mother to Noah," Starbuck said gently as he pressed a chaste kiss against her cheek before she could move away. "And to our children," he added before slipping out the door.

Athena closed her eyes as she willed his presence to dissipate from her quarters.

<><><><><><><><><><>

Athena could hardly keep her seat in the shuttle. Just a few more centons and she would arrive at the Orphan Ship to take Noah home. A wry smile flitted across her face as the oddity of the situation occurred to her.

She wasn't sealed. She hadn't given birth. And "home" was a hunk of metal flying through space. Sitting quietly at her feet was a mechanical daggit and next to her sat her adopted nephew. This definitely wasn't the situation she had imagined as she was growing up.

Absently, her hand rest on the back of her nephew's neck. No matter how odd, she realized, she couldn't have asked for more. Despite her cognizance of the twists and turns life had taken and the tears that had been shed, never in her life had she felt so full of love. Odd or not, she loved her nephew with all her heart and his mechanical shadow was a member of her family, she loved her family and friends and her work. And now her family would be growing by one precious member. The only things missing for her were her mother's presence and that of her dear brother Zac.

Her mother had always taught her to do what made her happy. It was a bit of wisdom that she had clung to over the past few sectons as she headed for this fateful moment. Without too much preening, Athena couldn't help but feel proud that she had survived the trauma and pain of the last yahren and arrived to where she had taken control of her destiny. And she was doing something that made her happy.

Not too long ago despair was her constant companion. The loss of her mother, Zac, her world and eventually Starbuck had left her bereft and lost. Finally, she had taken control of herself and the world around her. Finally, she felt that there really was something concrete to look forward to. Without disrespect to her father, the dreams of Earth still seemed to be a distant fantasy without substance and not providing any real comfort. She had come to realize that she needed to do something now, before that distant future arrived. Or didn't. Now she felt that no matter what happened, whether they found Earth in her lifetime or were forced to settle another planet, or worse, were defeated by the Cylons, she had something to hold onto.

And as always, time would heal all wounds.

"When Noah is living with you can I come over and spend the night cycle?" Boxey's question interrupted her thoughts.

"Of course!" Athena smiled at her nephew and drew him closer. "You can have slumbers like Zac and I used to do."

"Will you take us to the Rejuvenation Center so I can teach Noah my favorite games?" Boxey asked with a mischievous grin.

"Oh boy, I'd better watch my supply of mushies closely if you're going to teach him how to hustle me," Athena chuckled.

"You don't get enough mushies for us both to win," Boxey wisely pointed out.

Athena rolled her eyes. Starbuck had created a monster and now there were going to be two trying to scam the other warriors. Athena hoped they gave Starbuck some of his own.

"Muffy, Noah is going is my new cousin. He's going to play with us," Boxey told his pet. Muffy let out a bark as if he understood his master's instruction. For all Athena knew he really did.

Athena's nerves began to jangle as the shuttle landed. She had brought Boxey along in order try and make Noah more comfortable, but she was still worried about how the other children were going to feel about her singling Noah out to "take home" with her. More than anything she didn't want to make any of the children feel jealous and she had no intention to cutting herself or Noah off from spending time with them. She just hoped they were still welcome.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Blasi ordered me to invite Athena to dinner with us," Starbuck said over the comm to his wingmate.

"How did that come up?" Apollo asked with a smile.

"It didn't really. She just mentioned it in passing when I was leaving earlier today," Starbuck told his wingmate. "She said she wanted to meet the Commander's daughter and meet her new son."

"So are you going to?" Apollo prodded.

"I'll ask, but do you think she'll come?" Starbuck wondered out loud.

"You won't know until you ask," Apollo was glad he didn't have to suppress the grin on his face. He probably shouldn't be enjoying this so much, but he was. He had never seen Starbuck so uncertain and hesitant about a woman. When Cassi had run off to Cain he had been confused and angry, but he hadn't acted like a shy kid. Starbuck hadn't even acted this way when he was a kid!

"I don't think she wants to have anything to do with me," Starbuck grumbled. "She practically threw me out last night cycle."

"She just needs time," Apollo said reassuringly.

"I'm not sure she'll ever trust me again. I can't blame her really," Starbuck sighed. "Not after all the times I let her down."

"That sounds suspiciously like you're giving up," Apollo said.

Starbuck was silent for a couple of centons as he sorted out his thoughts. "If I give up...I can't give up. And I can't give her time Apollo, if I step back now she'll never trust me. I guess I just have to keep at it until she's satisfied I'm sincere. I can't believe I'm saying this!"

"I can hardly believe it myself," Apollo agreed, he could practically see Starbuck throwing up his hands in frustration. This was definitely too fun..

"You do believe me, don't you?" Starbuck sounded insecure to Apollo's ears. "I mean it this time. I love her Apollo. I'm not going to give up! I need her. I don't know that I can live without her. I tried that, she made me...I can't Apollo. I won't."

"I believe you Starbuck," Apollo assured his friend. 'And if you don't _I'll_ shoot you myself!'

<><><><><><><><><><>

"It'll be all right," Caphis squeezed Athena's hand.

"It's going to break my heart to see their faces," Athena whispered to Caphis, cognizant of Boxey walking just ahead of them.

"Some of the children will be upset, but most are genuinely happy for Noah. There's not much else we can do but help them work through their feelings," Caphis said gravely.

"They've experienced so much loss so young," Athena sighed. She knew Caphis was right, but she wanted nothing more than to turn tail and run from this necessary task.

"Omega says there's a room near your and Apollo's that's available," Caphis changed the subject to take Athena's mind off her worry.

"Really," Athena looked sideways at her friend. "Are you planning to take it?"

"Yeah, we are," Caphis told her. "But we're going to wait a bit longer to give the children some time to adjust to Noah leaving before I move too."

"You'll continue to work here won't you?" Athena asked.

"Of course, but like you said, there are other people who can be here during the cycles that Omega isn't on duty. We'll work it out. Sometimes we may stay here," Caphis told her.

"I'm really happy for you," Athena said sincerely.

"Me too. I owe it all to you, you know. Neither of us probably would have sought the other out if you hadn't provided an excuse," Caphis told her. "We're grateful to you for that."

"Nonsense. I'm sure one of you would have come to your senses eventually. If not, I would have wormed the information out of Omega at some point and brought him here by laser point if I had to," Athena elbowed him.

"That I could imagine. You're a brave woman. You can do this," Caphis said confidently as they reached to door to the children's play center.

"Come on Aunt Athena," Boxey urged as he fairly hopped around the hesitant adults. Muffy barked his concurrence.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," Athena smiled at her nephew's simple excitement. Children knew better than to worry about "ifs" she realized. It was a philosophy she decided to regain starting that micron. "Let's go fetch your cousin."

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Are you ready?" Athena looked around Noah's sleeping area one more time.

"Yup," Noah nodded.

"Great!" Boxey nodded and looked impatiently at the door. He couldn't wait to get back to the Galactica and begin to show Noah around his turf.

"Guess we're ready to go," Athena could almost see the mischief that Boxey was planning in that wily brain of his. He was a lot like his Uncle Zac at that age. Or like his Aunt Athena, for that matter, she admitted. "Let's go say goodbye."

Noah nodded, his earlier anticipation suddenly muted. Athena could see he hadn't given much thought to leaving behind what to him had been his home and family. She knelt down in front of him and placed her hand on his cheek.

"I know this will be difficult, but I promise you that we will come and visit your friends. You have gained a new family and a new home, but you haven't lost this one," Athena said gently. "I know it's scary, I'm scared too."

"You are?" Noah's eyes widened at the idea that an adult was scared.

"All the time," Athena laughed. "I want everything to be perfect for you and I don't want you or our friends to feel bad that you're leaving. So yeah, I'm scared too. But you know what, I'm going to try to be more like Boxey and not worry so much. How about you do the same?"

"Like me?" Boxey asked in surprise.

"I want to be like Boxey," Noah nodded.

Athena was pleased with her first attempt as a mother when she saw the smiles on both Noah and Boxey's faces. Of course, there still were the goodbyes that she wasn't looking forward to.

"You ready?" Caphis entered the room.

"As we'll ever be," Athena stood up and Noah slipped his hand into hers. On her other shoulder she balanced the bag of Noah's belongings.

"Everyone, Athena is here to take Noah to the Galactica. Don't we have something to say to them?" Rette asked the children as Noah, Athena, Caphis and Boxey entered.

As she finished speaking the children broke out into an old Colonial standard sang when warriors were going off to battle or people were otherwise moving away. Some of the children held handmade signs saying goodbye.

Athena felt a few tears fill her eyes as she listened to the young voices singing about goodbye and hopes to see you again. Such a sad theme for ones so young, but one they had all experienced in their short lives.

"Good luck Noah!" the children said at the end of the song. "We'll miss you." As soon as they were done the children broke from their temporary order and surrounded their departing friend.

This definitely was not the scene she had been expecting, but the other children seemed genuinely happy for Noah. She looked at Rette, her awe clearly written on her features.

"They're good children," Rette smiled proudly.

Athena agreed that she had every reason to be proud of this group of children. And here Athena was worried about raising one little boy!

"Can they come visit me on the Galactica?" Noah asked Athena, the other children looking on eagerly.

"I'm sure that something could be arranged," Athena assured them. A chorus of "wow" and "cool" filled the room in response.

"This is a good thing you're doing," Rette squeezed Athena's hand.

"I was just going to say that to you," Athena shook her head. "You raise these children as if they are your own and you hope that they find homes away from you. That must be so hard."

"If you love something you set if free to find its own happiness," Rette repeated the age old adage.

"I don't think I ever had faith in that one," Athena acknowledged, her thoughts briefly touched upon Starbuck.

"It's true. It's not until you set him free and that he chooses to come back to you that you can know if he really loves you," Rette said perceptively realizing that Athena wasn't talking about the orphans anymore.

'What about when someone else sets them free and they come to you?' Athena thought ironically.

"Aunt Athena, we're going to miss the shuttle," Boxey tugged on Athena's skirt to get her attention.

Athena moved forward at her nephew's prompting and proceeded to hug the children good bye on her own account. "Thank you for the lovely song. We'll see you in a couple of days at my usual time," she promised. As she spoke Noah joined Boxey at the door. Athena turned and moved to follow them.

"It's time to go home," she said to herself, her heart full of the promise of the future as she watched the boys amble down the hall with their arms around each other's shoulders. Well, at least Noah was trying to reach Boxey's shoulders.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"This is truly a family dinner tonight," Adama stood at the head of the table with his cup of ambrosa held in the air. "I can't tell you how joyful I am to see so many new members of our family in my quarters this cycle, and one old member who is taking on a new role," he said specially for Sheba. "For this reason I send a special thank you for God and the Lords of Kobol."

Adama's words were not an exaggeration. Sitting around the new, larger table were his children Apollo and Athena and his surrogate children Boomer, Starbuck and Sheba. Then there was his grandson Boxey and next to Boxey was his new grandson Noah. Then next to Starbuck was his newly found father Chameleon and Siress Blasi whom Adama presumed was soon to be Starbuck's new step-mother. To make the evening more special their close friends Boomer, Jolly and Tigh were all free from duty at the same time, or at least Tigh for a little while.

After everyone took their celebratory sip of ambrosa the table erupted into chatter. Adama sat back in his seat and silently observed. There had been precious few moments since the Destruction that had filled him with such joy and peace. In fact, he could count them all on one hand. Only one before this had not been the end of some tragedy such as when Apollo or Starbuck miraculously returned to the fleet alive, that had been Apollo's marriage to Serena.

Yet, even that time had been surrounded by negative forces, Adama realized. They had believed never to see Starbuck alive again, they were traveling in a dark void towards what he hoped was Kobol, the Destruction was fresh in their minds and shortly thereafter they had found Starbuck alive only to lose Serena.

No, Adama decided. This was the only truly contented time Adama could remember since Ila and Zac had become unreachable to them.

And like Apollo, Adama couldn't help but be amused by the Starbuck's obvious but fruitless attempts to gain Athena's attention. Apparently Adama and Apollo weren't alone in their observations, Adama realized as he caught Chameleon's curious look between his son and Athena. Then Chameleon looked at the Commander, silently asking if he knew what was going on.

Boy did Adama have stories for Chameleon about his son, Adama actually rubbed his hands together.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"You realize that if we have more children Apollo we're going to need a larger room," Sheba's eyes sparkled as she slipped her hand into her fiancee's under the table.

"I don't think Father would complain, neither would I?" Apollo whispered into her ear. He was immensely pleased to feel Sheba shiver as his breath hit her ear.

"You're a bad boy," Sheba said huskily.

"I can be even badder, especially if you keep talking about having more children," Apollo warned.

"Remind me of that later," Sheba sighed happily.

"You can be sure of that. So when are we going to have these children, or more specifically, when are we going to be sealed?" Apollo cleared his throat.

"I would like to have a holiday after," Sheba looked at Apollo questioningly.

"As would I," he nodded in agreement. "So what you're saying is that we both need to have free schedules. Boxey can stay with Athena I'm certain."

"And you _are_ the commander of the Blue Squadron...," Sheba hinted broadly.

"And I make the schedules," Apollo looked at his father guiltily. His father always made it a rule not to abuse power or engage in nepotism, but this was his sealing...

"I'm sure Adama won't mind us making sealing plans," Sheba was amused. He had loosened up considerably since she had come aboard, but sometimes he was so stuffy! She had to admire it though, she knew what a strong will it must have taken for him to be so unaffected by yahrens of friendship with Starbuck. Actually, it made his stuffiness endearing.

Apollo was watching the expressions cross her face and Sheba had a feeling he knew _exactly_ what she was thinking.

"Imagine how stuffy I might have been," he said, confirming her suspicion.

"I'd still love you," she promised, gazing into his eyes.

"You'll never have to prove that," Apollo chuckled.

"I was trying to be romantic and you're laughing," Sheba tossed her hair with feigned indignation. "We'll see if we talk about children tonight."

"You know, that might be a handy euphemism someday," Apollo pointed out.

"And I think you're stuffy," Sheba winked at him.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"I thought you and Athena were long over," Chameleon commented to his son.

"Not if I have anything to say about it," Starbuck frowned as he watched Athena. She was so engrossed in Noah and Boxey that she hadn't noticed any of his attempts to gain her attention. Or she was ignoring him on purpose.

"What about Cassiopeia?" Chameleon asked quietly.

"Now, Chame, he's told you that the relationship is over," Siress Blasi put a hand over Chameleon's and looked apologetically at Starbuck.

"It's all my fault," Chameleon sighed.

Starbuck suddenly understood what Apollo meant all these years about parents! "Chameleon, it's not your fault it's mine and hers. It has nothing to do with you," Starbuck said patiently.

"If I hadn't asked her to lie," Chameleon shook his head.

"It's not that simple. We might have been able to work through all that, it was other things that drove us apart. I wish you would believe me," Starbuck said earnestly. "She and I, Cassi and I aren't meant to be together."

"Are you thinking of getting back together with Athena?" Blasi interjected a question of her own.

"She won't give me the time of day," Starbuck said in frustration.

"Why not?" Chameleon asked in surprise.

"It's his reputation dear and their history," Blasi explained.

"Hmm, I could see how that might be a problem," Chameleon nodded absently.

"She doubts your sincerity," Blasi explained the problem with that simple sentence.

"She told me she loved me, but she just said that to try and get over it and she won't give me another chance," Starbuck admitted as he watched the woman in question engaging in an animated conversation with Boomer and Jolly.

"Sounds like you need a system," Chameleon said decisively.

"This isn't gambling Chame. Do you love her? Really and truly? Or are you just thinking she's convenient?" Blasi asked.

"Even you think that," Starbuck waved a hand in frustration.

"It is you reputation my boy," Chameleon reminded his son. "What you need to do is change your reputation and convince her of your sincerity."

"Assuming you are sincere? It looks to me like Athena is no longer free to play around," Blasi said pointedly as she motioned towards Athena's son as she continued to press her point home.

"A system, that's all he needs, don't doubt me Blasi, the man needs a system. It's just like cards. Have faith," Chameleon silenced all objections as he set his mind to work.

Starbuck and Blasi just looked at each other silently, wondering what insane plan this new addition to their lives would come up with. Neither mentioning the fact that Chameleon had yet to devise a fool proof system at cards, even after dozens of yahrens of trying.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"So now that you're a mother are you thinking about finding a husband?" Jolly asked Athena with a grin on his face.

"What, are you volunteering? I doubt Lila would be happy to hear that," Boomer teased.

"No, uh, I wasn't," Jolly looked from Boomer to Athena and back, panic clearly etched on his face.

"Give your wingmate a break, I know you weren't thinking of stepping out on Lila," Athena gave Boomer a quelling look. "I haven't even spent one day as a mother, I'm hardly ready to think about my love life. From what my friends who old hands at being mothers tell me I won't have time to even think about it in the near future."

"That seems like a waste," Jolly said sadly, under the table he kicked his wingmate in a the shins to prevent another comment from that quarter.

Athena smothered a laugh and pretended to not have noticed.

"Noah and I can find you a husband," Boxey offered.

"Uh, thanks Boxey, but I think Noah and I would prefer to go it alone for a while," Athena tried to suppress a giggle that was bubbling beneath the surface. She could only imagine what candidates the two children would come up with.

"I think that might be a worthwhile project," Boomer was clearly in the mood to tease his friend unmercifully. "I could help you."

"What project?" Apollo having overheard his friend turned their way and asked.

"Finding Athena a husband," his son answered.

"A project?" Sheba sounded amused.

Athena closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She wasn't sure whether she should be mortified and amused, but if Starbuck _dared_ put in his cubit's worth she would have to kill him.

"Back in my youth it was common practice in my community for a girl's family to find her a husband," Siress Blasi said with an evil-looking grin on her face.

"I would be more than happy to choose a husband for you," Commander Adama interjected his offer into the conversation.

"We can be a council!" Boxey said excitedly.

"Council of Twelve," Athena muttered under her breath, when she looked up she found Starbuck's blue eyes intently studying her. A flush spread over her face as she became unable to draw herself to look away from him. She was surprised to see that Starbuck didn't seem to be harboring a compulsion to enter into the conversation and offer his assistance or suggestions. From the look in his eyes, however, she knew without a doubt that it wasn't because he didn't care about the topic.

"We should elect a leader," Boomer proposed.

"It should definitely be Noah since he'll have to live with whomever we pick for her," Apollo grinned at his sister.

"Do I get any say in this process?" Athena inquired sweetly.

"Do you think she should have any say Noah?" Sheba asked.

"I dunno," Noah looked at Athena hesitantly.

"It's okay, we always tease each other," Athena leaned over and let Noah know that she wouldn't be upset by his participation in the usual family banter. "You'll get used to it, then they'll tease you too."

"Really?" Noah whispered, his eyes wide.

"If you can take it," Athena chuckled and smoothed his straight blond hair.

"She can give...input, but she has to seal with whomever we pick," Noah delivered his decisive first decision as leader of the council to seal off Athena.

Athena looked up and found Starbuck still looking at her intently.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"So how do you like your new room?" Athena asked Noah as she sat down on the side of his bed.

"I can see the stars," Noah was still awed by this new feature in his life. Athena hoped it would be enough to take his mind off sleeping alone for the first time since fleeing the Colonies. Briefly she wondered whether she should have invited Boxey to spend the cycle, but she had wanted Noah to get used to that right off.

"Athena?" Noah said, again, impatiently as he tugged in her sleeve.

"I'm sorry Noah," Athena apologized sheepishly. 'I'd better remember this before I scold Noah for drifting off while I'm speaking to him!' Athena remembered a common complaint of her own mother when they were growing up. "You were saying?"

"Will you stay with me?" Noah asked in a quiet voice.

'So much for distraction,' Athena thought, even as her throat tightened at his request. Would _her_ presence make him feel safe or was she the only option? She scolded herself for her self-centered thoughts, but that didn't make her insecurity dissipate as she tenderly climbed into the bed and settled with her arm over Noah's small form.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"So are you a member of the council?" Apollo asked Starbuck as he entered the barracks after leaving Sheba at the women's barracks.

"What council?" Starbuck asked around the fumarello in his mouth.

Boomer let out a snort from the other side of the pyramid table.

"Your sister is suspicious enough of me as it is, you can't think I'd be...why am I answering you?" Starbuck scowled and tossed away his cards.

"I don't think Boxey and Noah were kidding," Jolly looked from one warrior to the other.

"What are you all talking about?" Bojay asked.

"Boxey and Noah started a council to find Athena a husband," Boomer informed them.

"Where can candidates sign up?" Greenbean asked.

"Noah is the leader of the effort, you might try to brown nose him," Starbuck suggested in a testy voice.

"What's wrong Starbuck, afraid of the competition?" Boomer teased.

"Oh, Starbuck wants her, forget it," Greenbean said in disappointment.

"I don't believe this conversation. Leave the boy alone. Are you going to play?" Starbuck asked the warriors sitting around the table.

"Testy, testy," Boomer shrugged and picked up his new hand.

Apollo took a seat and waited for the next round. He had a big grin on his face.

<><><><><><><><><><>

[Athena's Quarters]

"You need to have the most perfect dress," Athena told Sheba, her eyes bright with the prospect of designing something spectacular. It wasn't, after all, something she got to do much anymore.

"What did Serina wear?" Sheba asked quietly.

Athena's smile faded at the question.

"I just mean I don't want to wear anything similar," Sheba looked away. Despite Apollo assurances, she couldn't help but feel a bit of disappointment that this wouldn't be Apollo first sealing ceremony.

"No, you have every right to ask. I just, I don't know how to make you feel better about this. You have..." Athena sighed. She felt if she said what she felt that she would be betraying her sister Serina. Suddenly a smile lit her face. She had two brothers growing up, now she would have two sisters. "Do you really want me to describe the dress to you or do you want me to promise to create something completely different, completely you? Because I promise you Sheba, you are a very different woman than Serina. The only things you have in common are that you are strong, intelligent woman that I happen to love and who love my brother. In temperament and independence, let's just say you could never wear anything like she did."

"They shared an almost mythical wedding complete with lost worlds and frothy creations. Yours will be the real deal," Athena bit her lip and grasped Sheba's hand. She hoped her future sister understood her intentions and wasn't hurt by the mention of Serina and Apollo's wedding.

"Frothy dress? No, don't tell me about it. I don't think I could handle it now. I don't know why I'm feeling so insecure," Sheba's face was a mask of frustration. "This is just..."

"One of the most important things you've ever done in your life?" Athena said lightly.

"There is that aspect," Sheba laughed in relief. "Let go take a look at that material."

"You won't be disappointed, I promise," Athena linked her arm with Sheba's as they headed for the door.

"You should take a look for yourself since your son and mine plan to find you a husband soon," Sheba suggested.

"Yeah, I'll do that," Athena groaned.

<><><><><><><><><><>
[2 Sectons Later]

"Noah invited Caphis and I to join his council," Omega informed Athena as she stood behind him on the war bridge waiting for Colonel Tigh.

"I think this might be getting out of hand," Athena grimaced.

"Why do you say that? Because Noah invited a 'candidate' over to your quarters a few days ago?" Omega chuckled, thoroughly enjoying the advantages of being a neighbor.

"That might have something to do with it. I thought it was just harmless fun, but now I'm not so sure. I think maybe Noah really wants to have a father," Athena said as she made some last micron calculations on her hand held. "Try this permutation, I bet it will expand the new scanner's range."

Omega looked at the mini-screen Athena held in front of him as he made the suggested modifications. After a few microns a smile spread across his face. "Good job! We're not quite needing to get rid of long range patrols yet, this will make them a lot safer."

"Yes, good job Athena," Colonel Tigh had come up behind them as they exulted in their success.

"Hi Sir," Athena pulled back and assumed something akin to military posture.

"Shouldn't you be off duty Lieutenant?" Tigh asked his assistant.

"Yes, Sir, but Noah is staying with Boxey this cycle and I wanted to finish these calculations. And give you this," Athena handed Tigh a disk.

"What's this?" Tigh asked.

"Summary of the reports from the mission of planet G3587," Athena referred to the small mission of scientists that had spent a few days studying a seemingly habitable planet the secton before. "They believe they found some materials that will be useful in building new vipers."

"That is interesting," Tigh was clearly cheered by the news. "You seem to be working yourself a little thin lately?"

"Sir?" Athena looked uncomfortable by the question.

"Why don't you go to your quarters and get some sleep," Tigh's words were obviously an order.

"Yes, Sir," Athena turned to go.

"I know you have a lot of time on your hands now that Noah and Boxey are running your love life, but don't forget to have a little fun yourself," Tigh teased as Athena reached the last step.

Athena didn't bother to respond, but her lack of amusement was clearly etched on her face as she left the bridge. She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she didn't notice a warrior coming around the corner and she plowed right into him.

"Whoa!" Starbuck grabbed Athena's arms to steady her

"Starbuck!" Athena exclaimed in surprise. "Sorry, I didn't see you."

"So I noticed, otherwise you might have headed the other way like you usually do these days," Starbuck's grip tightened.

"I haven't been avoiding you...exactly," Athena amended at Starbuck's doubtful expression. A flush spread over her face at having been caught being so cowardly. "How are you?" she changed the subject.

"How am I?" Starbuck queried. "Relating to what?"

Athena suddenly became conscious that they were engaged in their confrontation right outside the bridge. Despite the late centar they wouldn't be alone for long.

"If you're uncomfortable we can go to your quarters?" Starbuck suggested.

"No, um, fine," Athena straightened her shoulders. She wasn't afraid of him!

"Let's go," Starbuck let go of her arms and clasped her right hand in his left. He wasn't going to let her escape now that he had finally gotten her alone. She had been avoiding him for two sectons. He knew that she was busy with being a new mother and with her work, but she also wasn't responding to any of his messages. He was seriously considering lobbying Boxey and Noah to consider him a candidate and setting up a blind date with her so that he could talk to her!

A few centons later they entered her dark quarters. Starbuck still held tightly onto her hand. Athena hadn't pulled away for the entire walk there he observed and was encouraged by it.

"Athena?" Starbuck pulled Athena towards him. "Have you given any thought to what I told you?"

"What did you tell me?" Athena couldn't hide how affected she was by his closeness, but tried anyway by pretending to be searching for something on the blank walls of the dark room.

"Do you want me to say it again?" Starbuck touched the tips of his fingers against her cheek as he pressed their entwined hands to his hip.

"Say what?" Athena asked shakily.

"That I love you. That I've missed you," Starbuck said sincerely, his blue eyes burning into hers.

Athena swallowed and her breathing sped up. Starbuck could feel her trembling just a few centimeters away from his body.

"Have you missed me?" he pressed on despite her lack of vocal response.

"Yes," Athena whispered. Her head was whirling. She wasn't prepared for this and now she couldn't bring herself to pull away from him or deny him the truth. She _had_ missed him. She did still love him. Despite all the logic and experience she wanted nothing more than to be in his arms again. As she admitted the last fact to herself she circled his hip with her fingers and her body was drawn to press against his. Her other hand slid around his collar and entwined itself in his hair.

For endless centars they kissed each other and ran their hands over the other's bodies as they tried to make up for lost time. Movement for movement they matched each other and challenged each other.

Athena could feel tears gathering behind her eyes as she reveled in his long missed touch. 'This is why,' she told herself. No matter what happened between them over the yahrens, when they were alone and in each other's arms she never doubted the depths of his feelings. She never doubted that she was the one that his soul called out to or that she was the one that he craved.

Starbuck unclasped Athena's uniform top uncovering her the front of her shoulders and chest then he slid his soft, moist lips down her throat leaving sparks of sensation in their path and the anticipation of his touch ahead of them. Athena cradled his head in her hands urging him on.

When he reached the crest of her breast he paused teasingly. Athena moaned and tried to press him. Satisfied Starbuck took the aching bud into his mouth.

"Oh," Athena moaned as his hot tongue laved the aching point over and over and stabs of desire shot up her body.

Suddenly Starbuck pulled back. From his heavy breathing Athena could see that it wasn't a lack of desire that drove his actions. Fighting back the haze that had surrounded her senses she looked at him, too curious to be insulted.

Starbuck was careful not to let Athena out of his arms. He was fully cognizant that one wrong move would push her further away from him. "I'm sorry that wasn't what I came here to do. Not that I didn't enjoy it," Starbuck broke off uncertainly as Athena looked down and he could no longer read the expression in her eyes. Was she mad at him? Had he blown it?

"Then why did you come here?" she gently disentangled herself from his embrace. He let her go and watched as she refastened her uniform and smoothed her hair. More to keep herself busy than repair her appearance he could tell.

At least she hadn't thrown him out. Yet.

"I...I missed you. I had to see you. I had to know why you've been avoiding me," Starbuck fumbled for words. He was beginning to tire of the uncharacteristic insecurity this entire situation was bringing out in him.

"I haven't been avoiding you Starbuck," Athena denied quietly.

"Then why haven't you answered my messages?" he asked snappishly.

"I've tried. I've punched up your message account, but I found it ridiculous to leave you a message. So then you'll leave me a message back...we're on the same ship. Can you tink of a time over the past couple of sectons that you haven't been on patrol when I've not been teaching or on the bridge? And I have a son now," Athena reminded him.

Starbuck let out a breath and sat down on and dropped his face into his hands. "I can't handle this Athena, you're driving me crazy," his voice was muffled.

"How have _I_ been driving _you_ crazy?" Athena couldn't hide her amusement at the interesting role reversal.

"Fine, laugh at me," Starbuck lifted his head and looked at her sulkily, in other words employing his favorite technique.

"I'm raising a five yahren old and I don't know who's more mature. Yes, I do. Noah is," Athena teased. Amused by his antics, but refusing to let him get away with flashing his gorgeous face at her to get out of an important conversation.

"What's going on here Athena?" Starbuck searched her face. She wasn't angry with him and she wasn't throwing him out of her quarters or hiding behind a stoic facade. Something had obviously changed. He just wasn't sure if it was in his favor or not. "Do you still love me?" he threw caution to the stars and asked.

"Yeah, I do," Athena couldn't resist reaching up and brushing Starbuck's hair out of his eyes. "You need to cut your hair," she said lightly.

"I already have a Captain who tells me these things. What's going on here?" Starbuck captured her hand and for once forced an issue he had spent yahrens avoiding.

"I've missed you too. And I do love you. No matter how crazy I know that is after everything we've been through together. I'm not afraid of you anymore," Athena smiled.

"Why were you afraid of me? No, don't answer that I don't think I want to hear all that again," Starbuck waved his hand. He knew very well what Athena always had to fear from him - that he would back off as soon as they got close. "So what now?"

"You're asking me? Maybe that's why I'm sitting here, why _you're_ sitting here. You never used to ask me anything. I'd really like to try and make us work Starbuck," Athena told him.

"I sense a 'but' somewhere in there," Starbuck's heart still sped up hopefully anyway.

"But, I have a son now. A son whom I suspect really wants a father and who I know idolizes you. This, us, can't affect him. If you and I don't work out I don't want him to be hurt by it," Athena told him.

"So how do we do that?" Starbuck asked.

"I'm not sure. We take things slow, we don't let him find out that we're romantically involved. Otherwise he might make you get sealed to me," Athena chuckled.

"I knew I would be the perfect candidate for his search," Starbuck teased before his expression turned serious again. "I don't want to hurt him either. I'll do whatever you think is best. What's slow by the way?"

"A nice comfortable pace. Something that won't spook you and something you can still walk away from without causing too much damage," Athena explained with a shrug. Suddenly she looked away from him, unable to stop herself from wondering whether she was doing the right thing. It was different now. She wouldn't be the only person getting hurt this time. She had a little boy to consider, not just some uncomfortable awkwardness of the adults in her family to consider.

"I'm not going to get spooked or walk away. I mean it this time," Starbuck said earnestly and pulled her hands onto his lap.

"I can't take that chance with my son. Have you thought about this?" Athena asked, putting her faith in his answer. "I'm a mother now. I won't be available at a micron's notice for a pyramid game or to go to the Officer's Club or anywhere else for that matter. Things are different now for us. If we get involved things will be more...adult."

"First of all, we are involved whether we make it official or not. Second, there's nothing to think about. I love you and I love Noah already. Thirdly, we'll make it work this time. Besides, I have this wingmate who owes my girlfriend a lot of child care since she's always looking after his son. And who knows, maybe I can find something to do that includes children," Starbuck leaned in to resume their kiss.

"No corrupting my son Starbuck, I mean it!" Athena pulled away from his attempt to kiss her and said threateningly.

"Who me?" Starbuck asked innocently before pressing his lips against hers.

<><><><><><><><><><>
[3 days later]

"You don't have to do this," Athena stood halfway to the door of her quarters looking from the door to Starbuck and back.

"Athena, it'll be fine. I'm not completely without responsibility," Starbuck put his arm on her bare back and walked her towards the door. "If your son wasn't here I wouldn't let you leave dressed like that. Now, isn't that responsible?" he whispered in her ear. She wore a pair of pants and a top that bared both her midriff and her back. He wasn't sure how it stayed up, all he knew is that it had better while she on the Rising Star and he was back on the Galactica looking after Noah while she and girls celebrated Sheba's impending sealing.

"If you need anything, call my father. You know he would be more than happy to have Noah stay with him this cycle," Athena didn't look convinced of Starbuck's abilities to watch her son by himself.

"I'm a warrior and you really think I can't look after a small child?" Starbuck mocked her doubts.

"You are a small child," Athena told him.

"Then we'll get along great," Starbuck assured her.

"My brother lives just next door and so does Caphis and Omega," Athena needlessly reminded him.

"Stop worrying, Noah will be fine," Starbuck firmly pushed her out the door.

"It's not Noah I'm worried about," Athena could be heard saying as the door closed.

 

 

 

<><><><><><><><><><>
Love is a healer.
There is no purpose served in holding on.
Love is a healer.
There is no understanding why.
Love is a healer.
There is no sin in you that brought this to your door.
My love, it just is.
<><><><><><><><><><>

Chapter 8 - Kinsmen
<><><><><><><><><><>
[On the Rising Star]

"Okay enough toasts, I think we should off some words of wisdom to impart to Sheba before she takes this last step that will forever alter her state of being," Brie suggested, waving her cup of ambrosa around to punctuate her suggestion.

"Considering the fact that only one of us is actually sealed, maybe we'd better not. And don't even think of asking me for any advice, I've had way too much ambrosa by now to be useful," Lila, Jolly's wife, said without a hint of remorse at her tipsy state. It was a celebration and the women were allowing themselves the rare treat of altered spirits.

"There is that to consider," Dietra agreed with a laugh.

"Please, I don't think I could handle anymore advice. All the sealed women I know have already inundated me with tips on how to handle my man," Sheba groaned good-naturedly.

"Okay, then how about Sheba tell us why she's consented to seal with the man and help us single women learn your wise ways?" Ereen suggested.

"That's simple," Sheba whispered, her eyes taking on a far away look.

"Well, go on," Brie urged.

"He's the best person I've ever known. He cares about people and ideas. Oh, he's stubborn and maddening, but it's only because he's so passionate about everything and I admire that. He's loyal, brave, a natural leader, a skilled pilot without being arrogant about it and he has this sweet, romantic side. Of course, he's not completely perfect, he always makes a mess in the turbo wash and he's really grumpy when you wake him up. And I love him for all of those things."

"I always hoped that Apollo would find someone who appreciated him properly, I'm so glad he has," Athena said with touched gratitude as she squeezed Sheba's hand.

"Me too," Sheba smiled at her soon-to-be-sister and already-friend.

Athena smiled and looked away as she tried to catch her breath. Furtively she took a long, deep breath. Though it was Sheba who had bared her heart, the words had left Athena feeling as if she was the one who shared her feelings for Starbuck.

"I think I'm thoroughly depressed now," Rigel sighed and leaned her cheek onto her hand.

"Why are you depressed? You'd hate to give up being the most desired woman on the Galactica," Dietra said.

"That's true," Brie brightened up and winked at her friends.

"None of us are going to find our forever love by sitting here, let's go dancing!" Ereen insisted.

<><><><><><><>
[Apollo's Quarters]

"Seems familiar doesn't it?" Apollo asked quietly.

Starbuck, sitting next to his friend on the couch watching Boxey and Noah playing, nodded understandingly. "Are you thinking a lot about her?"

"I can't help but compare then and now," Apollo admitted, his voice low so that Boxey couldn't accidentally overhear.

"And you've been so concentrated on soothing their concerns you haven't had a chance to really consider how you feel. So how do you feel? Are you sure about taking this step?" Starbuck asked.

"Yes I am, I'm just feeling a bit sad. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm not sure that I'm doing the right thing, I just can't help but think about Serena. There was so much loss surrounding us when we sealed I didn't think it could get worse, now I feel so lucky I can't help but wait for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Maybe I just feel disloyal?" Apollo wondered.

"You're being overly pessimistic my friend. What you're feeling is perfectly natural. I'm not ending my fun, I mean being sealed," Starbuck shot Apollo an unrepentant grin. "And I can't help but think about how different things are now. Before I thought Aurora had been lost, I had been rejected by Athena and pretended I was relieved and had begun seeing this socialator I was lucky enough to find in the midst of chaos and I felt sorry for myself because I was losing my best friend. Not to mention the fact that I was playing pyramid with a tin head when you actually got sealed. Now I'm sitting her babysitting with you and scheming to get your sister to seal with me and let me adopt Noah. Not too long ago I would consider the tin heads a less constraining fate than all that."

"Okay, you convinced me, it's normal to wonder. So how did you convince my sister to let you watch Noah when I was available?"

"Easy, I told her you would be supervising," Starbuck said. "Actually, I just offered and she accepted."

"That's a good sign," Apollo observed with a curve to his lips.

"I think so, too," Starbuck agreed, his blue eyes twinkling. "I think things are just looking up for us buddy."

<><><><><><><><>
[Rising Star]

"Hello Cassi," Athena was the first to notice the latecomer.

"Hello, looks like they're having a good time," Cassi commented about their friends who were busy dancing. "Why aren't you out there?"

"I was just about to leave actually," Athena said.

"So early?" Cassi asked.

"I want to make sure that Noah is all right," Athena evaded the truth.

"Congratulations on the adoption," Cassi offered her late felicitations.

"Thank you," Athena smiled.

"And Apollo is watching him while his bride-to-be parties," Cassi chuckled.

"Actually, Starbuck is," Athena's chin lifted almost imperceptibly as she imparted the telling fact.

"Oh, then I guess you two...?" Cassi trailed off.

"Not officially, not yet," Athena admitted.

"I expected that, I thought it might take a bit longer," Cassi admitted.

"He's a good man Cassi, I know that a lot of his maturity has a lot to do with you and for that I'm grateful. I thought you had a right to know," Athena said gently.

"I'm sure Starbuck isn't so grateful to me," Cassi said.

"Maybe not right now, but he'll get over it. He has a big heart," Athena's face glowed.

"I thought I was the wise one," Cassi teased gratefully.

"I had to grow up sometime," Athena grinned. "Tell Sheba I had to go..."

Before Athena could finish her explanation the ominous sound of slamming metal was heard bringing a hush over the crowd, above which the reverberations echoed through the large, full room.

"Ladies and Gentleman, we have been instructed that we are under red alert status and we have closed the blast doors. You are perfectly safe in here and recommend that you all continue with the festivities until the doors can be opened again."

"Oh yeah, heard that before," Athena commented dubiously, referring to a less than festive occasion when she and others were trapped in the Galactica Rejuvenation Center while the great ship burned out of control.

"Is there anyway out of here?" Cassi stood up.

"I'm afraid not, once those doors closed we're trapped," Sheba answered as she and the rest of the women returned to the table. Behind them, in contrast, the civilian partygoers heeded the advice of their hosts and resumed their leisure activities.

"We have to get out of here. There has to be a way back to the Galactica," Rigel insisted.

Athena silently agreed. She was beginning to feel that the fates were against her and Starbuck being sealed. Oh Lords, she thought in a panic, what if something happens to him before I get to tell him that I accept his proposal? I'm stuck in this surreal celebration while Starbuck is out there facing who knows what. And Noah! He must be terrified.

"It could be the Cylons," Dietra stated what they were all thinking.

"It's been sectons since we destroyed those two base ships, I'd hoped we'd seen the last of them," Rigel rubbed her arms as if gripped by a sudden chill.

"If it's them, they're probably really angry," Ereen said.

"Rigel is right, we can't just stay here and wait while our loved ones are out there fighting for our lives. There has to be some kind of ventilation system or emergency exit," Athena said.

"Ventilation...wait a micron, I'm not climbing through some dusty and dirty pipe that we don't know where it ends only to get out of here and face who knows what!" Rigel protested, but no one was listening.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"I'm sorry," the Council Security guy shrugged.

"I can't believe they did this, he has to be wrong," Sheba was scowling.

"This was built as a pleasure ship not a war ship, some details had to be sacrificed to retrofit defenses," Dietra reminded them.

"I can't stand here and just wait," Athena blinked back tears and rubbed her arms.

"Maybe if we can contact the Rising Star bridge we can learn something?" Dietra suggested.

Without pausing to discuss the merits of the idea, the women turned towards the Security guard and converged on him.

"Well, I think we're at a dead end ladies," Ereen told her friends ten centons later.

After persuading, well bullying, the guard to let them use his comm, the bridge had told them they didn't know what was going on, just that they had been ordered by the Galactica to slow down and protect themselves. They hadn't seen or heard anything since. The Captain also refused to help them out of the social room.

"The way out of a dead end is to make a u-turn," Sheba's eyes narrowed as she looked carefully around the room.

"That's the way we came in, remember?" Ereen pointed to the blockaded entrance. "We all want to get out of here and do our jobs, and make sure families are all right, but what do we do once we get out of this room? We fight our way to the launch bay and commandeer a shuttle? There's no way off this ship and we don't know if it's even safe to try. The Captain isn't going to let us onto the bridge. I think we should just...wait it out."

Athena and Sheba clasped hands and squeezed.

"You're right," Sheba practically growled.

Athena closed her eyes and fought back her fears. Fears for Noah and Starbuck. Her brother, nephew and Father. Her friends and colleagues. Beside her she knew that Sheba were struggling with the same worries, they all were.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Why haven't they given us clearance to launch?" Starbuck asked his squadron leader.

"I don't know, all I'm getting is a hold signal and no answers," Apollo sounded just as frustrated.

"This is core command, Blue Squadron is ordered to stand down."

"What?" Starbuck exclaimed.

"You heard them buddy," Apollo said.

"False alarm?" Starbuck suggested.

"We'll find out," Apollo advised.

Half a centar later Starbuck and Apollo were not much closer to finding out what was going on. They had been blocked from access to the bridge and told to wait for Colonel Tigh in Landing Bay Gamma. The aforesaid man had yet to appear and none of the personnel present could tell them anything.

"At least it's not the Cylons," Starbuck stood with his hands on his hips. Before coming to the bay, the men had stopped off to reassure Noah and Boxey that everything was all right, and that Athena and Sheba would be home safely soon. Not that either men knew that for certain, communications with the rest of the fleet was only on priority basis and the other ships were still ordered to hold away from the battlestar.

"I just wish I knew if Athena and Sheba were all right," Apollo said stiffly.

"They 're fine, and apparently giving the Captain of the Rising Star a hard time for being trapped in the Star Club," Colonel Tigh entered.

"Are they in danger?" Starbuck asked.

"No more than we are," Tigh said cryptically.

"And what kind of danger is that?" Apollo asked.

"We'll see soon enough," Tigh gestured towards the shuttlecraft that were approaching the bay to land.

"What is that between them?" Starbuck asked, referring to the unidentifiable object being towed by the two shuttlecraft onto the larger ship.

"That is what we're here to find out," Adama said from behind them.

Starbuck shot Apollo a glance. If Adama was here, it had to be big.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"So what is it?" Starbuck asked.

"It doesn't appear dangerous," Doctor Wilker had declared a few centons earlier not having found any weaponry or bio-hazards. Now, all the warriors and bay personnel were crowded around the large metal thing trying to see for themselves just what it was. It was definitely too small to fit a person.

"Does it have any communications devices?" Adama asked.

"It appears to have had some rather primitive scanning capabilities. I suspect it's an exploration device of some sort. We're going to take it back to my lab and see if we can decipher logs," Wilker told them.

"I think it's from Earth," Apollo said as he stood in his father's office.

"I knew you were going to say that," Starbuck crowed triumphantly.

"Perhaps, let's not get everyone's hopes up," Adama cautioned.

"But you think so too don't you," Apollo said.

"Some of the symbols are similar to those found in the Book of Kobol. The placement of the stars on a solid field near next to stripes," Adama looked thoughtful.

"One of the symbols looked a lot like that transmission we found," Apollo pointed out.

"I hate to break up the happy fest, but we saw that transmission right before we ran into the Cylons," Starbuck said.

"I still think that was a coincidence. I think we're getting near Earth."

"I think that we're not going to find out anything until Doctor Wilker has at it. I think you two should get back to your duties or else my daughter is going to be even more upset when she gets back from the Rising Star," Adama cut short the impending debate.

"You don't think maybe they'll stay on the Star and continue the party?" Apollo asked hopefully. He didn't imagine Sheba would be happy at having been confined during a red alert and he felt bad that her celebration had been marred.

"Not a chance my son, they'll want to make sure that we're all right," Adama said.

<><><><><><><><><><>
[Athena's Quarters]

The urgency that had spurred her from the Rising Star and towards her quarters had evaporated as she neared her destination. Now, Athena stood outside the door to her quarters trying to figure out what exactly she was intending to do once she entered and came face to face with Starbuck.

"I don't even know what time it is, Noah might be awake," Athena admitted and leaned her head against the door. She had missed the little boy all cycle and now she was in no fit state to have him see her. Athena let out a chuckle at her predicament. Starbuck didn't even have to be present to cause her to revert to a childlike state. At the thought of him she closed her eyes and felt her heart begin to pound wildly. A silly grin spread across her face and she let out another chuckle.

Leaning her palms against the door she pushed herself back to a standing position. Then she took a deep breath and squared her shoulders before letting herself into the brightly lit room.

The first thing Athena did was confirm that Noah had gone to bed by noting that the door to his chamber was now closed. Then she let her eyes search for him. She found him lying asleep on her couch/bed. Her hand slid towards the lighting controls to dim the light even as she felt her stomach drop in disappointment. She hadn't expected him to be asleep after the turmoil of the past cycle.

'It must be later than I realized,' she sighed and moved to his side and looked down at him for a few microns before slipping into Noah's chamber to check on him. Finding him peacefully asleep she let him be and returned to the outer room.

She knew Starbuck had patrol the next cycle and the original plan had been for him to sleep until she returned from the Rising Star. Settling into a sitting position on the floor next to him she fought the urge to wake him and instead indulged herself in watching him for a while.

With a full hear she softly pushed his hair out of his eyes. Starbuck shifted his position slightly at her touch. Athena waited to see if he had woken up.

When she realized he was still asleep she brushed her fingers down the his cheek and over his lips. It was rare that Starbuck let himself look like he needed a shave, but she felt the stubble abrade the tips of her fingers. Then the touch of his soft, moist lips eased the friction. Unable to help herself she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his.

Athena brushed her lips over his for a few microns before pulling back to study his face. As she watched his eyelashes flickered momentarily before she found herself drowning in his sleepy blue eyes. She couldn't help but smile tenderly at him.

"'the?" he mumbled and moved to sit up.

"No," Athena put her hand on his shoulder and kept him from rising from the blue colored couch.

"What time is it? Is everything okay?" he sounded worried and confused as he came further awake.

"Everything is fine, just fine. Is Noah all right?" Athena asked.

"Listen, I know what you're thinking and..." Starbuck sat up quickly and began to defend himself as he had been preparing himself to do until he had fallen asleep.

"I'm not doubting you, I just need to know," Athena said.

"He was a bit upset by the alert, but he was with Boxey and when Apollo and I told him you were all right, this time he believed us. He fell asleep as soon as his head hit the cushion," Starbuck said.

"No pyramid?" Athena narrowed her eyes and studied the man who was smiling nervously at her. Then she burst into amused laughter and stood up.

"Oh Starbuck, don't ever change," she pleaded.

"Are you drunk?" Starbuck asked as he stared at Athena as if she was crazy.

"Certainly not," Athena said haughtily as she brought her amusement under control. "I might be slightly mad though."

"That I can believe," Starbuck observed, his own lips curving into an amused grin as he looked at her happiness. Even though he wasn't sure what she was so happy about. Hesitantly he stood up.

"I bet you're wondering what's going on here," Athena said breathlessly once she had her mirth under control.

"I don't think I care," Starbuck shook his head and put his fingers on either side of Athena's happy face. "I haven't seen you look this happy in...well, a long time. You look beautiful."

"It's because of you," Athena looked down and took a deep breath. "I love you and I want us to be sealed."

Then she waited, watching as comprehension and then wonder lit up Starbuck's eyes.

"Did you just say what I thought you said?" he said dumbly.

"Is that all you have to say?" she teased.

"Are you drunk?" he asked again.

"No. I'm completely sober and completely certain. If you meant what you said then I want us to be sealed. I want you to be Noah's father and father to whatever other children we adopt or have together. What do you have to say?" Athena slid her arms around his neck.

"Yes?" Starbuck asked.

"Yes," she said before pressing her lips against his and kissing him breathless.

"So, can I sleep here?" Starbuck asked hopefull when she stopped for air.

"Not until we're sealed," Athena informed him, raising her chin imperiously.

"That better be soon, but until then I'm going to have to dedicate all my energies towards trying to change your mind," he warned as he slid his arms around her waist and pulled her against him.

"Don't get cocky because you seem to be a roll," Athena warned as she slipped her arms around his neck.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Before I leave for the Orphan Ship can we discuss something?" Caphis asked Omega in an unusually serious tone.

"What's wrong?" Omega was immediately aware of his boyfriend's serious mien. He stopped putting on his uniform and looked expectantly across the bed at Caphis.

"What do you think about us getting sealed?" Caphis asked.

Omega's face lit up and he walked around the bed and took the shirt out of Caphis's hand.

"I think it's exactly what I've been thinking. I thought you wanted to wait until we were back together longer before we talked about it again," Omega said tenderly, running his hand over Caphis's muscular chest.

"I love you," Caphis whispered and pressed Omega's hand over his heart.

"I never thought I would be this happy again," Omega said and pressed his lips against Caphis's and slid his tongue between his lover's lips.

Caphis slid his hand over the swelling arousal straining under Omega's pants and began to caress..

Omega pressed his hips forward and moaned.

Caphis opened Omega's pants and wrapped his hand around Omega's erection and began to pump it until a droplet of arousal appeared. Then he bent down and slid it onto his tongue. Omega threw his head back and his hips bucked. Obligingly, Caphis slid his tongue down the silky hardness and then took it into his mouth and made love to it.

"I'll ask Adama if he'll perform the ceremony," Omega said breathlessly, later as he held Caphis in the circle of his arms.

<><><><><><><><><><>

"Are you sure this is what you want?" Athena asked as they sat wrapped in each other's arms.

"Yeah, I'm sure," Starbuck said softly as he stroked her arm. "Do you mind telling me what brought about this about-face on your part?"

"I realized how hard I was trying to not believe you and that meant that I already did believe you and in us," Athena smiled tenderly up at him. She reached her hand up and stroked his cheek tenderly.

"It wasn't just the red alert?" he needed reassurance, having acted hastily once or twice himself during times of stress.

"I was already leaving when it went off," she promised.

"So do you want a double ceremony with Apollo and Sheba?" Starbuck suggested.

"Are you insane? I don't have a dress or a furlon scheduled. Or anyone to watch Noah. I think it's too soon to leave him alone while we go off for our post-sealing trip? Maybe we should wait a while longer," Athena's mind was racing with plans and concerns about their sealing celebration.

"Ahem, I hate to be a guy about all this, but if you're planning to make us wait until we're sealed I'd rather put off the trip," Starbuck said meaningfully.

"Yeah, well," Athena blushed and looked down at her hands. "I'm sure Noah wouldn't mind staying with my father and Boxey."

Starbuck chuckled and squeezed his future wife affectionately, touched by the fact she still could blush. Especially after practically growing up with him!

"You have patrol tomorrow," Athena looked up at Starbuck, mentally gauging whether their new status was going to cause her to worry about him now. She was relieved to discover that she didn't feel different. "Sleep well," she pressed her lips against his.

"I'll be dreaming about you, as usual," Starbuck waggled his eyebrows lecherously.

"I promise I'll make it worth your while then," Athena winked.

Starbuck, instead of answering, pulled her against him and gave her a searing kiss. As his lips and tongue invaded her mouth, his hands slid down to curve her ass and press her against the evidence of his arousal.

Athena gripped his hair.

His lips moved to suckle and lick her neck and one hand slid up her body until his palm was cupping a breast. After teasing for a few centons he bent down and took the sensitized nipple into his mouth and began to suckle it through the thin layer of covering.

Athena's moans urged him on and he moved his attention to her other breast.

As Athena's breathing reached fevered pitch he raised himself up and wrapped her legs around his hips and pressed her, hard, against the door.

"Is this what you mean by persuasion?" Athena asked before he claimed her mouth again.

"I need you," Athena pleaded as he ground himself into her throbbing center.

Starbuck lifted her legs around his waist and continued to thrust against her.

"That's it," Starbuck urged.

"Starbuck! Oh Lords," Athena cried out.

A few centons later she was hiding her face in Starbuck's shoulder and he was stroking her hair gently.

"Are you blushing again?" Starbuck asked teasingly.

"Yes!" her voice was muffled against his uniform.

"All this talk about waiting and anticipation had me worried, I wanted to make sure you remembered what you were missing," he whispered in her ear.

"I'll find a dress real fast," she promised as Starbuck laughed.

"I just remembered that Chameleon and Blasi invited you and Noah to join us for a late cycle meal, maybe I should invite them here to join your father?" Starbuck suggested.

"There really is no way we can be alone is there?" Athena sighed.

"Anticipation, your idea, remember?" Starbuck winked.

<><><><><><><><><><>
[Early Cycle - Galactica Gymnasium]

"So how did Sheba's party turn out?" Boomer asked his work out companion as they sat on neighboring leg machines.

"Fine," Athena couldn't suppress a smile at the memory of the all that had happened the cycle before.

"Fine? That smile says more than fine," Boomer observed, breathing through his teeth as sweat glistened on his bare chest.

"The party was fun, the Star was packed, red alerts not fun," Athena said vaguely. She and Starbuck had parted without making any definitive plans as to when and how they were going to announce their new commitment and she was fairly bursting at the seams to tell someone!

"Hey, there's something you're not telling me," Boomer said perceptively.

"There is, just wait a little longer all right," Athena stood up and picked up her towel.

"I don't believe it! That guy has all the luck!" Boomer exclaimed.

"So what about you and Lila?" Athena changed the subject.

"Nowhere close to where I suspect you and Starbuck are, but she is wonderful Athena," Boomer practically swooned.

"Glad to you liked your natal day present," Athena giggled.

"I've been improving my scurry too, speaking of presents. Rematch?" Boomer challenged.

"You don't give up, you're on!" Athena shook her head in sympathy for her poor friend.

"And you're so beat!" Boomer promised and hopped off his machine, taking his towel with him.

"Not yet!" Athena finished her reps and followed quickly after him to the next machine.

<><><><><><><><><><>
[Launch Bay Beta]

"All right, what gives?" Apollo asked his wingmate when he finished his pre-flight inspection of his shuttle.

"Are you sitting down?" Starbuck asked.

"Funny," Apollo rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. They were standing underneath his viper.

"We're going to announce it to everyone at the meal later, but I thought you should know now. Athena and I are going to be sealed. She said yes," Starbuck looked at his wingmate worriedly.

Apollo's expressed went from stunned to happy and he gave his friend a hearty hug.

"Congratulations, brother!" Apollo exclaimed.

"I was hoping you would be happy since you've been playing matchmaker," Starbuck was relieved.

"I am, I just can't believe she made it so easy!" Apollo said.

"Easy? You think this was easy? Perhaps you haven't been keeping up all these yahrens?" Starbuck snorted.

"I could swear that you were the pain in the astrum," Apollo said dryly.

"Yeah well. Can I ask you something?" Starbuck said hesitantly.

"You're not going to ask me for my permission are you?" Apollo joked.

"Actually, I was thinking of asking Adama. I know it's old fashioned, but I think after everything that's gone on between Athena and me I have a feeling he might not be so thrilled," Starbuck explained.

"I think it's a very fine idea Starbuck, but I don't think you need to prove anything to my father. He's always approved of the match, even when I didn't," Apollo said.

"Guess that takes a load of guilt off of your shoulders old buddy," Starbuck clapped his hand on Apollo's back. "So one bachelor party or two?"

"Somehow even the most serious conversation ends with a reason for women, party or gambling," Apollo gave a long-suffering sigh.

"Keep telling yourself you hate it if it makes you feel better," Starbuck told his friend.

<><><><><><><><><><>
Here's my heart my love is in it
Here's my heart my love is in it
Here's my heart my love is in it
<><><><><><><><><><>
Epilogue - Faith Justified
<><><><><><><><><><>

Athena stood looking out at the Fleet and the passing stars. She hadn't bothered to turn the room's lights on, afraid that if she did this dream would end. And it was a dream. A dream that had finally come true. Yet it was nothing like she had imagined.

She stood in a sheer white sheath that was practically see through, chosen of course by her husband, as she waited for Starbuck to enter and begin the slow process of seduction that would seal them once and for all before God and the Lords of Kobol.

Yes, she couldn't fight the smile on her face.

Yes, her body ached for Starbuck's touch.

Yes, her heart pounded in anticipation.

For the first time this day everything was exactly as she had always imagined it would be.

Before now everything was different.

The location, so far from Caprica, the absence of her mother and Zac, the presence of her child and the ceremony being performed by her father, all of that was different.

The most telling difference, however, was what passed between her and her husband at the ceremony. Even believing he loved her she had expected a look of panic in his eyes. In all of her fantasies over the yahrens she had never been able to realistically picture the look of certainty and love on Starbuck's face as he accepted her unto his soul. And while he spoke his vows without a micron of hesitation, behind him stood his father and his new son.

There had even been tears in his eyes as he gently stroked her cheek with his knuckles before pressing his lips tenderly against hers. As he brought their bodies together she felt his heart pounding strongly and in time with hers.

"I've waited days to see you in that," Starbuck's voice interrupted her thoughts.

"Days?" she chuckled, refusing to turn away from the view and face him.

"Hmmm, days," Starbuck corroborated.

"Mmmm," Athena murmured absently as she let the heat of his nearness seep into her skin. "Maybe you should move back so you can get the full view?" she suggested.

"Some other time," Starbuck's lips were now hovering over her ear. "My wife..." Starbuck paused so they could both drink in the title. "My wife seems to have other things on her mind that require my attention. You know, I almost thought I'd find you in your blue officer uniform just now."

"Why?" Athena finally turned around and looked her husband in the face.

"Lords, don't you know how much it turns me on, when you're wearing it that is," Starbuck stroked his knuckles over the side of her breast. "Or when you're not."

"I'll remember that when you begin to ignore me," Athena shivered.

"Now that you're mine to make love to whenever I want do you think I'll ignore you? Heck, Apollo can't even glare at me now if I kiss you in front of him," Starbuck pressed his lips against her neck.

"He's been getting it out of his system for sectons now I noticed," Athena tried to hold onto the conversation.

"It's all bluster, he told me ages ago he approved of us," Starbuck ran his tongue down her collar bone.

"He did," Athena sighed and her eyes slipped closed.

"Let's not think of him right now?" Starbuck flicked his tongue over Athena's hardened nipple, which was still covered by the filmy material of her gown.

"Who?" Athena slipped her fingers into his golden hair.

"Right," Starbuck growled as he took her aching tip into his mouth and began to caress it with his lips.

"You're naked!" Athena exclaimed as her hand encountered bare skin. Her eyes flew open and confirmed her words.

"Told you I didn't bother with wardrobe," he chuckled and bit down on her nipple. "But yours I like."

"Lord," Athena sighed as Starbuck lifted her in his arms and carried her towards the bed.

"I like the title, but husband, lover or Starbuck might make this a little more personal," Starbuck teased as he placed her down gently and skimmed her body with his eyes. "You are a goddess."

"Starbuck!" Athena protested in embarrassment.

"You're my wife, I can say silly and adoring things if I want. Just don't tell anyone," Starbuck winked.

Athena began to caress the bare skin of Starbuck's chest and stomach.

"My wife," Starbuck whispered in awe as Athena's hand finally wrapped around his arousal. "My wife," he repeated as she began to stroke him.

"My husband," Athena grinned up at him.

Starbuck leaned down and captured her lips in a searing kiss. His hands holding her hips in place under him. "I want you so badly," he growled.

"I can tell," Athena sighed as Starbuck slid a hand underneath her gown and found her already wet with arousal.

"I want to adore your body all secton, but right now I need to be inside you," Starbuck pleaded breathlessly as he slid a finger inside her and rubbed his thumb over her swollen clitoris.

"Yes!" Athena arched her back.

Starbuck positioned himself between her legs.

"Starbuck, please," she wrapped her legs around his waist.

Slowly, he slid himself into her. "Athena," he cried out as the tight heat surrounded him. "I can't go slow."

"Don't," Athena's response acted as a spark setting Starbuck's combustible passion in motion. Yahrens of waiting, and more particularly sectons of waiting through Sheba and Apollo's wedding, through Caphis and Omega's small ceremony and planning their own day, were put to an immediate and forceful end as they satisfied the fates, and themselves.

"So why didn't we do that before?" Starbuck asked later as they lay in each other's arms.

"So we could be here with our whole hearts," Athena's eyes opened and she looked up at him.

Starbuck gazed down at his wife. "And I am here of my whole heart Athena, my wife. Forever."

<><><><><><><><><><>
<><><><><><><><><><>

Act of Faith
by Rick Springfield

I tell you honestly, don't you go and throw your heart away
I know it's hard to do,
you've got to let go when you want to hold on.
I know how much you miss him celebrate what you had.
don't cry about the things left unsaid,
it'll do no good.
You look for mercy and a meaning somewhere,
but you know that the hurting won't go till you walk through
the fire.

It's gonna take an act of faith to stand up and face the day.
It's gonna take an act of faith, nobody can make you stay
It's gonna take an act of faith
maybe love will find it's way back into your life
Here's my heart my love is in it

Stand up, don't you fall.
You just take good care of where you are.
You're thinking life's thru with you.
That's not what he'd want or what you should do.
I know you loved him baby celebrate who he was.
I know you've got to go on and live your life.
Go down to the river of the spirit that runs through you,
and lay yourself down in the healing waters.
Love is a healer.
There is no purpose served in holding on.
Love is a healer.
There is no understanding why.
Love is a healer.
There is no sin in you that brought this to your door.
My love, it just is.