Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Note: Quote in part seven is from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, the twentieth chapter. The song Cassie remembers in part five is from "Royal Wedding", by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane.
Note: I didn't invent that twisted Colonial legal system... but "Murder on the Rising Star" makes it pretty clear the jeopardy described in this story is real.
The boy was cold. He was hungry. He was scared.
But worst, he was alone.
The trees were huge, twisted shapes against the sky, and their thorns made it hard for him to find a place to hide. But he had to hide—Run. Hide.—so he pushed himself between the spikes, adding the smell of his own blood to the iron, burning odor that would bring him to the edge of panic for the rest of his life. The pain was nothing anymore, nor was the hunger, he was used to them both. As long as he could run, and hide, he would be all right.
But not safe. Never safe ever again.
And always alone.
He crouched among the thorny vines against the bole of a tree, biting back his whimpers and shivering with the cold night wind and his fear. There should have been a warm, comforting, delicately strong someone there, to wrap him in her arms and whisper words that made him feel safe, wanted, and protected. Or a careless, laughing, insouciant someone, who caught him when he stumbled and made everything nothing to be afraid of. But neither of them was there...
Only the night wrapped him in protection. Only the wind whispered to him. Nothing caught him when he stumbled, unless he fell into a thorn bush, and there was nothing he wasn't afraid of.
Terror swept out of the skies, loud and destructive. Screams filled his ears. Flames spread everywhere. Run! Run! Into the Forest! The town, the farms, the houses were burning. Silver-winged death chased running people, firing on them... the smell, the dreadful smell of burning flesh and blood. Run. Hide.
He ran. He hid. He hid well, for days, an alternation of light and dark across the sky he could barely see from his hiding place. Screams in his ears faded to the silence of the forest, returning in his dreams. The thunderous downpours that drenched him to the bone, filled him with fevers yet gave him to drink and put out the fires that made him run. Again. Deeper into the thorny woods. Further from the terrors.
Reaching in his dreams for hands, for arms, for comfort. Waking to the cold, wet, thorny embrace of the trees. Fleeing in his dreams from fear and death. Waking to silence and safety.
And when the soldiers found him, a sleek speckled dagget alerting them to the shivering silent life crouched among the thorns, he allowed them to pick him up and take him back, and he stared with huge blue eyes at the remains of Umbra and the burial grounds and the utter desolation of the city only echoed that of his heart. He looked solemnly at the soldiers when they smiled at him, and they slowly realized that he had forgotten how to talk. Forgotten his name. Forgotten himself.
They said he was lucky.
He had to believe them.
They gave him a new name. They gave him to people who kept him warm and dry and clothed and fed. He learned to talk again. To smile and please and find places to tuck himself away and arms to hold him and voices to whisper to him in the darkness.
But he was still alone.
twenty-five yahrens later
The woman stood in the doorway and looked across the bar room at the pilots sitting around and playing pyramid. Her eyes were fixed on the tall dark one who didn't look like he was enjoying himself, but when the chestnut-haired woman Warrior on her way into the casino paused, looking at her and inquiring if she could be of any help, it was Lieutenant Starbuck the civilian asked for. The Warrior smiled with a touch of relief, said, "I'll tell him you're out here," and went into the room.
"Hi, Sheba," Apollo said as she slid into the seat on his left. "Glad you could make it."
"Hi," she said, and turned to the blond sitting on Apollo's right, a nice stack of cubits in front of him and a frown on his handsome face as he looked at his cards. She had glanced at his hand when she'd crossed behind him: a perfect third-level pyramid, in green. From his face, you wouldn't know only two possible hands could beat him. She smiled and said, "You're saved, Starbuck; there's someone needing to see you out there."
He looked at her and back at his cards. "Oh..." he collapsed his hand and looked around the table. "I should leave—"
"Hey, not before the hand's over," one of the other players protested.
"Oh. Yeah." Starbuck was reluctant... all the way up until he dropped his hand on the table and raked in the cubits. "Thanks, Sheba," he smiled at her.
"But there really is a woman out there," she said.
"Wait a centon," Apollo said. "Cards and a woman?"
"I just live right," Starbuck grinned, pocketing the cubits and favoring the whole table impartially with his blinding smile. Standing, he said, "See you in the morning, Apollo, Sheba, Boomer."
"You'd better be there on time, buddy," said Apollo.
Starbuck just grinned and left. Out in the lobby he looked around, but didn't see anybody he recognized. A couple of women were standing around, but they didn't appear to be looking for him, though he contemplated convincing the tall brunette that she was but didn't know it yet. Then he heard a soft voice.
"Are you Lieutenant Starbuck?"
He turned around. The woman was medium height and looked so tired he was surprised she was still on her feet. She was just vaguely familiar to him, though only her face, not her voice or her figure... Certainly not her clothes, which were worn and yet once had probably been alluring. She looked like a hooker on hard times. He was wary, but then something in her eyes softened him. "Yes," he said.
"You don't know me," she said, "but I'd like to talk with you. Please."
"Sure," he said. "Look, you should sit down. Come on inside, we'll get a booth—"
She was shaking her head. "No. No, I can't leave Zephyr."
He looked around. "Who?"
She gestured at the bench in the corner. A smallish parcel lay there... a baby, he realized. A baby in the lobby of the Gold Lounge. Now I've seen everything, he thought.
"Okay," he said. "Let's sit down over there... I'm sorry, what's your name?"
"Aline," she said.
Frack, that sounds familiar. He figured she'd tell him what she wanted soon enough. He slipped his hand under her elbow as they walked across the lobby. She sat down beside the baby; it cooed and stuck its little hand out at him. "Hi, sweetheart," he said, sticking his finger into its—her, he thought—grip. "Hi. Look at you."
"She likes you." Aline sounded surprised.
"I'm used to babies," he said. "Haven't been around one in a while, but... what is she, six, seven sectares?"
"Six," she said. "Would you like to... never mind."
"Hold her?" he said eagerly. People didn't generally offer him a chance to hold a baby. He slid his hands under Zephyr and raised her gently, resting her against his shoulder. "Hi, darling," he said. "Hi."
She smiled at him and patted his cheek. Her hair was reddish and curling and her eyes were big and brown. She was the cutest thing he'd seen in yahrens.
After a couple of centons he recollected himself and looked at Aline, who was leaning back against the wall with a tired smile on her face. "I'm sorry," he said. "What did you want to talk to me about?"
"Actually, it's about Zephyr," she said. "I hate to ask you this, but her father always spoke so highly of you. He practically worshipped you." She paused, breathing unevenly.
Starbuck played with Zephyr's fingers and tried to remember who had ever shown him a picture of this woman or mentioned someone named Aline...
"I don't have anybody else to ask," she said, embarrassment staining her face a dull red. "I can't work, I missed a lot of time with the baby and now I'm sick and... please, Zac always spoke so kindly of you. Please, if you could lend me just a little, I'll pay you back as soon as I can get back to work..."
Zac? Starbuck stared at her. He remembered now, Zac talking about a woman he'd met in Caprica City on furlon. His last furlon, as it turned out... It hadn't been hard to figure out she was a hooker, that Zac had spent all his money on her, that she'd taken him for everything she could... okay, maybe I was too hard on her. At least he'd never said anything like that to Zac before he died. Before he died... "Did Zac know about Zephyr?"
"No," she said. "He didn't... he was too young for this. It was my mistake, my decision. I didn't want to trouble him... when I found out he was dead, I thought maybe his parents would want to know. He, Zac's father, didn't." She shrugged. "I guess I'm not what he had in mind for him. And he has another son, I know that. Zac mentioned him."
"You're not asking him for money?"
"He wouldn't give me any," she said. "Zac said things about him... he loved him, but he... he might take her away from me but he wouldn't help me."
Starbuck wasn't one hundred percent sure that was true, but it most likely was. Apollo could be awfully rigid at times, and he'd be sure Aline was trying to blackmail them or something. Adama would be worse... he'd hate finding out one of his sons had left a bastard behind, by a hooker. Zephyr pulled his hair, not hard, just experimenting with it, and he smiled at her. Bastard. What a name for a little sweetheart like you. He looked up at Aline. "I'd do anything for Zac's kid," he said honestly. Especially since I'm why Zac's dead. "And you're in luck. I was in luck earlier today. I'm fairly flush at the moment... are you all right?" He reached out to steady her. His hand to her shoulder was half on her neck, she was so slender, and he was scared by the fever. "No, you're not. Come with me."
"I can't—" she broke off, finding it hard to breathe.
"You are," he said, rising to his feet and pulling her with him. "We're going to the Galactica."
"I can't go there."
"Yes, you can," he said. "Medical treatment's for anybody who needs it." He shifted Zephyr and got his other arm around Aline. "Don't argue; just come with me."
One of the Galactica shuttles was taking on passengers. Starbuck used his uniform to push past the others and make sure they got seats. Aline got quieter as they approached the battlestar, and when they docked, she made it no more than a few steps out into the bay before she simply collapsed. He only managed to stop her fall, since he was carrying the baby. But he hollered for help, and a tech corporal took Zephyr from him so he could pick Aline up and carry her to the Life Center. She seemed to weigh almost nothing, and she was burning with fever.
He paced the waiting room, holding Zephyr, worrying. "How long was your mama sick, hmmm?" he asked her. "Too long." He laid the back of his hand on her cheek, remembering how the matrons had checked for fevers at the orphanage. She seemed fine to him, but what did he know? "What am I going to do with you, huh, Zeffie?" he said. "Can't let you go to the Orphan Ship... no. No..." He smiled at her.
"Lieutenant Starbuck?" Dr. Salik looked out into the room. Starbuck crossed over to him.
"How is she?"
"Is that her baby?" Dr. Salik asked abruptly.
"Yes," Starbuck said.
"We need to do a screening on it," the doctor said, gesturing at his technician. The young woman—Tara, Starbuck thought her name was—took Zephyr from him.
"What's wrong with Aline?" Starbuck asked.
"Klarfelt syndrome," he said. "Triggered by exhaustion and malnutrition, but caused by exposure to solium, probably from the ship she was on during the evacuation. With any luck the baby won't have been exposed, it looks too young to have been born until after most of the leaks had been detected and shielded..."
"But that's fatal," Starbuck protested.
"Yes. I'm sorry. All we can do for the woman is medicate her pain. She's very far gone. She won't last the night, I'm afraid." He looked over his shoulder. "I'll call about the child; someone will come to pick it up."
"Her," said Starbuck. "But you don't have to call anybody. I'll be responsible."
"Lieutenant, the child is about to be an orphan—"
"No," Starbuck said without even thinking. "She's not. She's mine."
Dr. Salik raised an eyebrow, but simply shrugged and said, "I'll go check on the tests."
Starbuck nodded. "Can I see Aline?"
"Of course. She'll wake soon. But she may not be terribly lucid."
"She shouldn't be alone," Starbuck said. Sometimes Salik was just too cold for his taste.
"Of course," the doctor said, blinking a couple of times. "I'm sorry, I'm just not used to... well. Go in, stay with her. I'll let you know what we find out about the child."
Starbuck went into the small room where Aline lay, a blanket over her. He pulled up a chair and sat down, taking her little hand in his. "I wish you'd come looking for me sooner, Aline," he said. "Don't worry about Zeffie. Don't worry at all. I'll look after her. I promise."
She didn't respond, except that he thought her fingers might have tightened in his. He sat there the rest of the night, holding her hand and brushing the lank black hair off her face, stroking her cheek with his fingertips. Every now and then he'd tell her again, gently, "I'm here, Aline. You're not alone. And Zeffie's safe."
The only time he left was when Dr. Salik appeared in the doorway, beckoning. He untangled his fingers from hers, leaning over to whisper, "I'll be right back," and got up, a little surprised at how stiff he was.
"Lieutenant," the doctor said. "Good news and, well, I'm not sure."
"She's not sick?" That was the important thing. "Zeffie's all right?"
"She's not sick," he reassured him. "Well, a little run down, perhaps, nothing some good food and rest won't take care of, but—"
"But?" Amazing how quickly she'd grabbed his heart, which was now in his throat.
"But, well..." Salik looked a bit uncomfortable. "The child isn't yours, lieutenant."
Is that all? Then Starbuck realized what that would mean. "How can you be so sure?"
"A simple blood typing ruled it out, lieutenant. You're a 0—" and he'd been glad of it, universal donor, he'd given blood to Apollo and Boomer both. Frack, Zac must be a 1, like Apollo and Athena.... Dr. Salik was continuing, "She's a 3; ergo, you can't be her parent."
Starbuck swore softly; Salik blinked in startlement. Of course, he thinks she's conning me... but I can't let them take Zeffie. "Dr. Salik," he said carefully, "her medical records are confidential, aren't they?"
"Well, blood type isn't usually considered confidential..."
"But she's not a Warrior. There's no need for just anybody to know her blood type."
"No," he agreed. "You knew this already?"
"This is confidential, right? Doctor-patient?"
"Yes. If you want it that way."
"I do. Zeffie's mine, that's what I want people to know. I'm not asking you to lie; just don't tell anyone. I can't let that kid end up on the Orphan Ship."
"You're letting yourself in for a lot of trouble, lieutenant."
"Yeah, I know."
"If that's the way you want it."
"Then, it's all right with me. I'll not tell. Anyone," he added, with a meaningful look towards the techs' area, where Starbuck realized Cassie would be coming in to work on the early morning shift. Soon. Frack, he realized something else. His own duty shift started in a few centares. He couldn't leave Aline. He looked at his wristchrono again.
"I'll call your duty section," Dr. Salik said, "medical excuse you. You'll have a lot to do today if you're taking the child home."
Frack. "Like finding quarters."
Salik raised an eyebrow. "Have you any records at all?"
Starbuck opened his mouth and then closed it. He was definitely going to have to think. Plan. Figure something out.
"I've an affidavit form you can sign in lieu of birth records," Dr. Salik said. "It's common enough for nothing to have been salvaged. It'll cover you for quarters, child care, so on."
"Thank you, Doctor," Starbuck said. "I mean it."
"Thank me again when she's a teenager," Salik said. "She's with Tara for the moment; she's been fed and I expect she's sleeping." He turned and went back to his office.
Starbuck went back to Aline, taking her hand in his again and leaning over her to say, "It's all settled, Aline. Zeffie's going home with me. She'll be taken care of. Don't worry."
He was startled when she opened her eyes and looked at him. She spoke, her voice such a thready whisper he had to lean even more closely to hear her. "You shouldn't... she's not your problem..."
"She's not a problem," he said forcefully. "I want to take care of her, Aline. I loved Zac like a brother. I'll take care of his child. For him. For you, for not messing up his life. For Zeffie herself, because no kid should grow up an orphan."
"I didn't mean... for you to do this... I didn't—"
"I know, Aline. I want to. Don't worry about anything. I'm here and you're not alone, and Zeffie's safe." He tightened his hand on hers as she closed her eyes.
It was another centare before she stopped breathing. Starbuck was a little surprised to find tears on his face.
Cassie came into work in a good mood after a good night's sleep. She and Starbuck were getting their relationship back into some sort of order after Cain had blazed back into her life like some comet, fiery and irresistible and gone again. Cassie had really hated hurting the lieutenant, but the commander owned her heart and had for yahrens, and after all, Starbuck was... well, Starbuck. Volatile and, well, not really attached. Starbuck had told her to make her own decision and follow her heart and do what she wanted... so she had. And then Cain had left her—again—and she'd discovered that Starbuck's heart had been engaged enough that she'd really hurt him. It wasn't easy, getting his trust back.
Sometimes, she wasn't so sure he was worth all the trouble. Sure, he was sweet. And handsome. And very good in bed. And he made her laugh. But he was also profligate and reckless and apt to forget about her when his friends or the cards called... Cassie was used to being the first thing on her man's mind. Of course, her man was generally paying for it... or had been. Which was one of Starbuck's first attractions for her, that he hadn't treated her like a socialator. But most people had forgotten that by now, or at least learned how to act like it. New days, new ways...
But she wasn't used to having to work so hard, and sometimes Starbuck seemed more like quicksilver than a precious metal. So it was nice to spend an evening alone sometimes, not working so hard at getting back something she wasn't sure she'd ever had or that she'd know what to do with if she had it... Recharging her batteries, so to speak. Getting ready to charge back into battle.
So she was humming to herself as she came into the Life Center. Tara was sitting at the blood testing console, running some figures, and a baby was on the second operator's chair, fast asleep. "What a cute baby," Cassie said, hoping nobody was going to expect her to pick it up and be maternal. "Whose is it?"
"That lieutenant in Two," Tara said, not looking away from the console. "It's so sad, isn't it? Her mother dying and all."
"Does she have a father?" Cassie asked because she thought she ought.
"Oh, the lieutenant's her father. He's in with the mother."
Cassie wondered who it was. She picked up some files and walked past Two to get a peek. And froze in the doorway. The dark blond head bent over the woman's body... It can't be. But she knew it was. She backed away quickly before he could feel her eyes on him and glared at Tara. She'd done that on purpose, Cassie knew she had. Well, there was no way she was giving that snip the satisfaction of knowing she'd been gotten to. Instead, she went looking for Dr. Salik.
"What's wrong with the woman in Two?" she asked casually.
"Klarfelt," he said, "end-stage. Solium poisoning during the Evacuation, doubtless. I don't expect her to last more than another centare."
"And that's her baby?"
Salik looked up at her and said, with deliberation, "Yes. Lieutenant Starbuck's the father, it would appear. He's assuming custody."
"I see," she said. She went to a terminal and began entering data. When Salik left the office some twenty centons later, Cassie immediately pulled up the woman's records and ran a cross-check against the personnel data banks for the Fleet...
While Starbuck was signing forms for the Life Center and arranging Aline's burial, Apollo was noticing that his wingman wasn't where he was supposed to be. He called the BOQ, but nobody had seen him all night. "Damn him," he said resignedly to Boomer. "Did I or did I not tell him he'd better be on time this morning?"
"You did," Boomer said philosophically. "You always do. He usually is."
"Captain?" the duty sergeant said. "Dr. Salik called from the Life Center about Lieutenant Starbuck. He said he was putting him off duty for two days—"
"What the hell happened to him?" Apollo's irritation evaporated, replaced by concern with a touch of anger. "Why does he always find trouble wherever he goes?" he added.
"Dr. Salik said, 'family emergency', sir."
"Family emergency?" Apollo repeated blankly. "Starbuck hasn't got any family. How can he have a family emergency?"
Boomer shook his head. "Got me. Unless that guy, Chameleon?"
"I'm going to the Life Center," Apollo said. He paused, giving Boomer a long-suffering look. "Don't you think he'd come with a better excuse than that?"
"Hey, maybe he got Sealed last night," Boomer grinned.
For some reason, that did not strike Apollo as the slightest bit humorous.
'Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.' That was one of those phrases that came into Starbuck's mind as if he'd heard them long ago. They weren't quite common use, but it wasn't as if he'd made them up, either. He liked to think of them as the things "my dad used to say"... In this case, he hoped you could add, 'or one is a medical professional.' If Dr. Salik told anyone, he'd lose Zeffie. He might lose her anyway. He probably wasn't anybody's idea of a suitable father. He just hoped that nobody was willing to get too terribly exercised over the fate of a cheap hooker's kid. He might even look like an improvement.
Starbuck sat in the waiting room and watched Zeffie sleep in the chair next to him, remembering Zac. He'd been eager and he'd been young and then, just like that, he'd been dead. On Starbuck's patrol. That he'd begged for it didn't really relieve Starbuck of his share of the responsibility. The Armistice hadn't been signed yet; technically, no matter what Apollo had said before leaving, they had still been at war. Zac hadn't been ready. Too green. No hours in a Viper outside of training. Too excited. Too much to prove.
Starbuck could still remember that conversation in the locker room before Apollo had come in. Zac all but begging, those big brown eyes, just like Zeffie's... He still thinks of me as his little brother. Zac wanting so much to grow up, to stop being Adama's youngest, Apollo's kid brother, the baby of the family, even though he was half a head taller than Apollo and young enough to get still taller. His pilot's jacket still stiff with new, his rank pins too shiny, his whole self so young... his whole future ahead of him and it a good one, a peaceful one, a never-having-to-learn-to-kill-or-to-lose-the-people-he-loved future and all he wanted was this one last shot at what his father and brother had spent their whole lives at, to prove...
Starbuck sighed, remembering his own question: It's just a routine patrol. Why is it so important to you? And Zac's impassioned answer: 'Cause it is. I'm a Warrior. I earned that. I want to prove that to him.
Starbuck reached out and pushed a strand of Zephyr's hair back behind her ear. You did, kid, he thought. It's not your fault that he's closed his eyes. Won't see it; won't accept it. That you're still his baby brother...
Zac had wanted it so badly he'd beaten down Starbuck's reluctance. He'd let himself convince himself that his uncertainties were innate, unfounded... He'd never forget Zac saying, It's a peace envoy! What possible trouble could there be? And his answer, Yes, well, that's not the point... and Zac's anguished cry of Starbuck, you promised! Promised... and Zac still trusted his word, his promises, and so he'd gone to his death. Gone joyfully—his whoop at Apollo's accepting the substitution still rang in Starbuck's dreams. Apollo remembered more his own answer to Starbuck's last try to pay attention to his little voices, his offer Listen, maybe I oughta go along... turned down by an Apollo finally and too briefly proud of his little brother: No, he's gonna be just fine.
Just fine... Except that he was too new at the job. That was it. It wasn't because he was an innocent or a child still. Younger than he had gone to war. Starbuck had been younger... But it was his first time out. And he shouldn't have been there. It shouldn't have been him.
He still thinks of me as his little brother.
And he always will, now. His perfect innocent laid on the altar for the survival of the people, and this time no one provided a rammet in the thicket. This time the innocent died.
After first having the lack of consideration for the legend being created around his name to fall, and hard, for a cheap hooker and father a bastard daughter on her. Not a good way to burnish the luster on the story. Not the way his father and brother wanted to remember him. Not the way they would remember him, probably. He wondered exactly what Aline had meant by saying 'Zac's father didn't want to know.' Refused to talk to her? To believe what she said? Accused her of trying to blackmail them? It didn't really matter. Zephyr wasn't how they remembered Zac. And Zac had told Aline, over that one pre-deployment ten-day furlon all the graduates got, enough about Starbuck that it was him she'd come looking for when she needed help.
"Starbuck, you promised!"... I promised, Zac. I did. I promised her, and I'm promising you: I may have failed you then, Zac. I won't fail your daughter.
"Lieutenant?" The billeting clerk looked up from her terminal.
He got up and crossed over to her. "Yes?"
"Well, we can't get you into two rooms for a couple of sectares. Would you prefer to wait, or move twice?"
He smiled slightly. "It's not like I've got much to move," he said. "And I really don't think the BOQ pilots' barracks is the right place for a little girl for a couple of sectares. We'll take the one-room."
She smiled at him. "Well, while she doesn't look old enough to appreciate the BOQ, I don't think she's old enough to notice anything, either. But it's up to you. Sign here, please."
"Thank you," he said, signing here. And here. And here.
"There you go, lieutenant. Initial keycode is 1111. Change it first thing." She handed him two data cards. "Take this one to the QM if you need more furniture. I'd hang onto it till you get into your permanent quarters, if I were you. And this one is your rations card, for the food stores. You get four O Club meals a secton, any others will show up on your tab. And I've put you in the system for child care during your duty shifts."
"Thanks, Corporal," he said, pocketing the cards. Then he went back to the chairs and picked up Zephyr. She didn't wake up, just snuggled against his shoulder. "I think I'll take you to child care before I start running around," he said softly.
There, of course, he had to sign another four forms. It was a definite reality check, putting unknown down so often. "Lieutenant," the primary caregiver said, checking the form, "we need an alternate contact."
"Can I get back to you on that?"
"Well, yes, I suppose," she said. "What about her mother?"
"She died this morning," he said.
"I am so sorry," she said, putting her hand on his arm. "There's no hurry, then. Just, as soon as you find someone, tell us. We'll use your commanding officer at the moment."
Great. Apollo... "I'll have a name for you today," he said. "Tomorrow at the latest."
"It's all right, Lieutenant... Starbuck?" she read off the forms. "Don't worry. We'll take very good care of little Zephyr." She smiled at him.
"I'm sure you will," he said. Then he dropped to his heels to say goodbye to Zephyr, who gurgled at him and didn't want to let go of his finger. "I'll be back, sweetheart," he promised her.
He found his new temporary quarters: sleeping room, front room, service room... more space than he'd ever had to himself. Sharing with a baby didn't count; she'd hardly take up any room and owned even less than he did... frack, he realized. He needed to buy clothes for Zeffie. Probably toys. Food. He should have asked the caregivers what he needed. He wondered if Aline had anything... well, of course she did. Wherever she'd been living. He should check with the personnel data base and go there, pick up whatever she'd left.
Assuming any of it was worth picking up. Or was still there.
After checking the records—and discovering, to his not very great surprise, that several other people had already checked up on Aline—he caught the first shuttle making the round that included the freighter she'd been living on, the Caprican Feriya. It was marginally better than the Gemini, but that wasn't saying much. He was glad of the laser belted to his leg as he made his way along the crowded lower compartments... living on the Galactica one tended to forget what conditions were like in much of the Fleet. Aline's compartment was tiny. No one bothered to question his right to go into it, though he did get a couple of offers from her neighbors, seeing as how she wasn't home. And no one questioned his packing up a small bag with three sets of baby clothes and a couple of feeding bottles. There wasn't anything else there worth taking; he didn't know if she'd never had anything or if somebody had already been there before him.
He didn't suppose it really mattered.
"No," he said to the deck supervisor. "No, she won't be back. You can reassign the compartment."
"She always had a thing for the military—no offense," he added quickly.
Starbuck decided not to start anything... after all, he had a dependent now. And the root meaning of the word was clearer to him than it had ever been before. It scared him just a little: Zephyr had only him to depend on.
He decided to stop by the O Club and grab one of those meals the billeting clerk had talked about. Experimenting with cooking his own meals could wait until tonight. Then he figured to go by the barracks and clear his stuff out and then go back to the child care facility and find someone to give him a shopping list... He leaned back against the seat and waited for the shuttle to make its way back around to the Galactica, making up a tentative list in his head.
At the O Club he ordered a sandwich and sat a table for two. He was halfway through when he heard his name. Cassie... she'd glared at him this morning but disappeared into the back of the Life Center before he could say anything. Just as well, he'd thought, since at the time he hadn't had a clear idea of what he was going to say. He figured Zephyr was going to break them up; Cassie didn't strike him as ready to be anybody's step-mother except Sheba's...
He looked up at her. "Cassie—"
"Don't speak to me," she said. "How dare you?"
"If I'm not to speak, how am I supposed to answer?" he asked, reasonably enough he thought.
"This is not a joke, Starbuck," she said. "There's nothing amusing in this situation."
"No," he agreed. "Death is rarely amusing."
"I can't believe you," Cassie said. "It was bad enough you were dating Athena and me at the same time, but this! Starbuck, that woman had a baby! Your baby, and you didn't think it was worth mentioning!"
"Cass, I didn't—"
"Oh, that's right," she said, her voice carrying. "You didn't know. Because she was a twenty-cubit whore. I don't want to see you again." She turned on her heel and walked out.
Damn. He'd known in the Life Center that she was mad, but not that mad.
"Buy you a drink, flyboy?"
He turned, startled. Athena stood by his chair. "Ah, yes," he said.
She sat down and, after signaling the waiter, put her hand on his arm. "Starbuck, sorry about Cassie. But I happen to think you're doing the right thing. I'm even willing to baby-sit... sometimes."
He smiled at her gratefully. "Thanks, 'Theni."
"Don't thank me," she said. "We're friends, aren't we? I know what it must mean to you, not having known about her. Knowing how close she came to being raised an orphan... I mean it. I'll help."
"I'm going to need it," he admitted. "In fact—'Theni, can I put you down as alternate contact? If I get killed or something? I don't have anybody else..."
"Of course you can," Athena said. "You'd better not need me, though. I'll figure out some way to make you pay."
She didn't ask why her and not Apollo, which made him sure he was making the right choice. But he just nodded and said, "I have every intention of making sure you never get a call. Believe me."
"Starbuck, how could you be so... so..." Apollo seemed stuck for words.
"Irresponsible?" Starbuck offered helpfully.
"Hey, that's who I am, remember?"
"That's no excuse. Even you should have known better."
Starbuck looked at him. Although this conversation was intensely depressing, Apollo's reaction had convinced him he'd been right not to tell them that Zephyr was really Zac's. None of them would have wanted to know it, especially Adama. Or maybe especially Apollo, who was turning his little brother into the perfect sacrificial lambet. And none of them would have wanted her, except just possibly Athena, and though Apollo or Adama would probably have taken her in, the atmosphere wouldn't have been good for her.
"I just don't understand you, Starbuck. You were seeing Athena then. How could you go on a furlon and just..."
"Hey." That stung, even though it wasn't true. It was Apollo's tone that did it. "Athena and I were never exclusive. She knew that. You knew that."
"Starbuck, she was a cheap whore, not another girlfriend."
"You're awfully judgmental, you know? Some day that's going to come back and bite you."
"I practice what I preach, Starbuck. I don't sleep around and I certainly don't patronize whores."
"I don't make a practice of it, but it's no big deal. It's legal."
"A lot of stuff is legal, Starbuck; that doesn't make it right. Besides—"
"I don't understand how it can be so meaningless. How you can not care."
"I can care."
"But you don't. You never have. You never will."
Starbuck figured later he'd just snapped under the strain. "You want to know why I sleep around, Apollo? Is that it? It's because I'm in love, damnit, and I'll never, ever get the one I want."
"You? In love? Since when?"
"Oh, a dozen yahrens, anyway."
Apollo stared at him. "Come on, Starbuck. What's going on here?"
Starbuck wished he hadn't started but since he had, hell. In for one cubit, in for a dozen. "I love you. I have for quite a while. I know you don't—"
"My gods, are you serious?" Apollo stared at him. "You are. Starbuck, this is seriously wrong. I don't want to hear it."
"Well, it's not like I wanted to say it—"
"I wish you hadn't."
"If you'd stayed out of my personal life, maybe I wouldn't have."
"When your personal life interferes with the performance of your duty, lieutenant—"
"It hasn't yet, captain. And it won't. And I'd think you'd appreciate me taking care of my responsibilities."
Apollo stared at him. "We'll hope it doesn't. Now that's all, lieutenant. Dismissed."
Over an ale in his quarters that evening Starbuck recounted the conversation to Boomer, finishing with, "So now he's thoroughly pissed off at me. Which is why he barked at all of us all afternoon, I expect."
"You probably could have chosen a better time to tell him," Boomer observed.
"Nah," Starbuck shook his head. He might not be sure why he had chosen that time, but he was sure of one thing, at least. "There is no good time to tell Apollo something he doesn't want to hear. You can try picking a time when he's not listening, or can ignore you, but otherwise... well, when he's already mad at you is as good a time as any."
"There's some truth to that," Boomer acknowledged.
"Listen to Starbuck; he knows about Apollo being pissed off at him."
Boomer had to laugh. Then he said, "I still think—"
"I know. You thought in another four, five yahrens he'd have mellowed or gotten lonely or something. The trouble with you is you're an incurable romantic, Boom-Boom."
"I guess so... When do you think he'll get over it?"
"Optimist," Starbuck said. "Who knows? Right at this centon I don't much care. But I know I will, so I hope it's soon."
"I know... look, it's done. I never had any hopes anyway. As long as he talks to me again, I'll be happy."
"Oh, he'll talk to you," Boomer predicted. "You may wish he wouldn't, of course."
"I used to do that a lot, anyway."
Boomer laughed again. "You know, Bucko, I think he'll settle down about it pretty soon. You two will never be quite the same again, I suppose, but he'll cool off and realize you never jumped his bones before now—"
"Thought about it," Starbuck confessed.
"Yeah, well, don't mention that," Boomer grinned. "So he'll settle down, rewrite the conversation a little, and you two will be okay again. Just give him some time."
"Don't have much choice, do I?"
"Not if you want to stay friends with him. Don't push him. It'll work out."
"I hope so—did you hear that?"
"I think Zeffie's awake. Hang on, I'll be right back."
But the other man went with him, in case she was awake and needed some attention from her Uncle Boomer.
She was still sleeping, making little noises and kicking a bit, the blanket mostly off and her little cloth felix—that Jenny had shoved into his hand with a gruff, "made this for the little bit, sir; it's not much but it won't matter if she teethes on it or something"—clutched in one hand. Starbuck said softly to Boomer, "I think she's just dreaming. If babies dream. Do they?"
"How should I know? Why wouldn't they?"
"Well, they can't think. I mean, they can't talk yet, or anything. So how would they?"
"Images, maybe... I thought you were around babies a lot growing up. How come you're asking me?"
"Just because they made us watch them didn't mean they told us anything about them," Starbuck said, tucking the blanket around her shoulders and smoothing her hair. "Anyway, if it's a dream, she's enjoying it."
"I think I'm going to go and do a little dreaming of my own, buddy," Boomer said. "See you tomorrow."
"Night, Boomer. Thanks."
"Don't mention it. What are friends for, anyway?"
To Starbuck's surprise, Boomer wasn't the only one who liked to come over and amuse Zephyr. In fact, lots of Blue Squadron and a good number of pilots from the others were obviously completely taken by his baby girl. She was the only pilot's child around, for one thing, not counting Boxey. And though they liked him well enough, had been kind to him when he'd spent time in the barracks when Apollo had been missing, there was an extra something to the way they responded to Zephyr. Maybe it was because she was really his, maybe because she was a baby, maybe because she was a girl... maybe even because most of them could identify with the whole scenario of a woman showing up out of the past. Whatever, Starbuck discovered that he never had a problem on the occasions he needed someone to stay with her at short notice. He didn't take advantage of that willingness, but when emergencies came up he never had to worry. If nothing else, Jenny and the other mechs watched her.
He found himself staying home nearly all the time. But a couple or three times a secton half a dozen or so people would come over and just hang out in his quarters, someone having stopped by the O Club to get something for them to drink while they sat around and played cards or triktrak or just talked. Even when there were only three or four and they played yermolash or contract, whoever was sitting out the hand generally was making a fool of himself with Zeffie instead of annoying his partner by hanging over the table and criticizing the play. And though Jolly spoke for them all when he claimed you just couldn't get a good game of pyramid going without Starbuck, Zeffie spent most of those evenings in various laps, playing with cubits or chips or somebody's wristchrono. Sheba had protested that they were corrupting her, and Jolly had said, "Like she's not genetically programmed to gamble as it is? And it's not like we're letting her drink."
Of course, they always handed her over to him if she needed changing, though she would probably be terminally embarrassed by the number of her father's friends who could tell her how cute she'd been in her bath... Still, he had never expected to have so much interested help. And gods knew, he needed it.
It took Apollo three sectares to come over the first time, and then only because Sheba and Boomer dragged him. But after that only slightly awkward evening, both of them glad to see the other but not sure how to say so, he came a couple or three times a sectare. Usually with Sheba, who was still nice to Starbuck and still made him feel creepy for no reason he could put his finger on. No good reason, anyway. It bothered him to feel like that and he had always tried to be nice back. It occurred to him once that they probably came across as good friends; after all they never even disagreed... but it was a sham and he thought she knew it as well as he did.
As for Apollo and him, well, they were still friends, really, though the old inseparable days were gone. It was good though, when they got back on easy terms again; Starbuck had missed him. And, apparently, been missed as well, though Apollo was noticeably more careful about topics of conversation.
Athena and Starbuck, on the other hand, were better friends now than they had ever been. If you ignored the fact that they'd slept together on and off for three yahrens (or if you knew about the more peculiar practices of some of the really ancient Kobolian aristocrats), she was like the sister he didn't know if he had and he was like the brother she wished she did instead, sometimes, of the one she did have. Sometimes.
"Well, I just don't understand why you aren't more annoyed with him," said Apollo.
"Why should I be annoyed with him?" she asked curiously. She really wanted to know why her brother was.
"'Theni, he was seeing you at the time, remember?"
"And you were so happy about it, I remember that, too."
"That's beside the point. He was seeing you."
"It's not like we were Sealed," she pointed out. "Or talking about getting Sealed. Or thinking about talking about it. Or thinking about thinking about—"
"I get the idea," he said.
"And you don't like it. You'd rather I said he broke my heart?"
She looked at him in some amusement. He was always doing that to himself. "I know you wouldn't, Apollo," she said. "I never loved Starbuck. Not really... and just as well. But he never told me I was the only one."
"So you're telling me you were never jealous?"
"Of Zeffie's mom? How could I be?"
"What about Cassie?"
"Okay, you've got me. Though I wasn't jealous of her, I was just pissed off at him. For a couple of days. Then it became a game, really: how much trouble will he go to?"
"Not very kind to Cassie, was it?"
"She wasn't very kind to him, either. Because he did stop playing around, Apollo. He was being faithful to her. You know he was. You even told me you hoped it would be 'the making of him'. And then she just left him flat."
"Well..." that was true, and he'd been angry on Starbuck's behalf. When Starbuck had offered to stay with Cain on the Pegasus, he'd known it was because he'd meant it, the some of us don't have any families.... That had hurt, he'd thought Starbuck knew they thought of him as family, him, Adama, Boxey... even Sheba.
Athena continued. "And I know you're going to say that was later. And you're right, maybe it wasn't very kind to Cassie. But I didn't know her then. But none of this has anything to do with Zeffie's mother."
"Cassie is sure mad at him." His tone suggested Cassie was showing some sense.
"Well, she doesn't have any right to be," Athena said uncompromisingly. "He didn't even know she was alive the last time he was on Caprica."
"It's an indication of character," Apollo insisted.
"Starbuck doesn't have any character, not the way you're meaning it," she said. "He never has, and it's part of his charm, and you know it. If it's going to annoy Cassie so much, it's a good thing she broke it off."
"Why did you go out with him if you thought that?"
"Because he's got plenty of character, really."
"He doesn't have character," Apollo started.
"I know, I know: 'Character, you're supposed to have it, not be it.' But even Father knows you can trust Starbuck with your life. When he makes a promise, he keeps it. When it counts, you can depend on him. You know that. You always have. I can understand why Cassie's upset. I don't understand why you are."
"If you don't understand it," he said finally, "I can't explain it."
Because you don't understand it, either, do you? she thought, looking at him. You can be such an enigma sometimes.
"If you understand it," Sheba's voice said, and she slid into the booth next to Apollo, "I wish you'd explain it to me, Athena."
"Hi," Athena said as Apollo kissed Sheba on the cheek. So that's what this dinner invitation is about, she thought. Well, I could see it coming the past half yahren or more. You played him perfectly. She smiled at the Viper pilots across from her. You make a handsome couple, anyway. "Explain what?"
"Why Cassie is so angry," she said. "Anybody can see Starbuck's making that child a perfectly good father."
That was such a typically Sheba statement, Athena reflected. On the surface it was so nice and yet... somewhere underneath were several buried insults you couldn't quite call her on. She shrugged. "Because she's a socialator. Was a socialator."
"I'm sorry?" Sheba said.
"Well, you remember how angry she was that the woman was 'a twenty-cubit whore'?" Athena still winced internally at the memory of Cassie delivering that line like a slap in the face. If nothing else, it pretty much guaranteed that Zeffie was going to hear it...
"Yes," Sheba said.
"There you are. Look," she elaborated when both her brother and Sheba looked puzzled. "Cassie was a socialator. That's pretty much the same thing as whore, right?"
"Well," Apollo said reluctantly, "of course."
"Just not cheap," Sheba said bitterly. "Somehow socially acceptable. A man can preen himself on taking one to an expensive restaurant."
Oops. Forgot your father was one of her customers. "Yes, well, I'm sure that socialators themselves spend a lot of time convincing themselves that there's considerably more difference than the price-tag. So Cassie has to really despise people like Zephyr's mother to keep up her own self-respect."
"That makes sense," Apollo said.
"And even when she finishes training and is a physician," Athena finished, "there will still be people who think of her, maybe even call her, 'that ex-socialator'."
"Not where Boomer can hear it," Sheba smiled.
"He finally asked her out?" Apollo sounded, to his sister's ears at least, as if he were uncertain if that was a good thing or not.
"I saw them on the Star last night," Sheba said. "Maybe he can make her calm down a bit about Starbuck. After all, he's still friends with him."
And again, there was stuff lurking under the surface of that. I'm glad I'm not going to be living with you, Athena thought as she said, "There's no reason he wouldn't be."
"No, of course not."
"Actually," said Apollo, "I don't want to spend the whole evening talking about Boomer. Or Starbuck either. Sheba and I have some news, 'Theni."
She sat back and prepared to be suitably surprised and delighted.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Starbuck walked into the childcare center nearly a centare later than usual. It had been a long patrol and he was tired. But it had been a good one—uneventful, just flying ahead of the Fleet, relaxed and lost in the experience. And then, out of nowhere, Apollo's voice in his ear, "This is what it's all about, isn't it? Deep space exploration."
Starbuck was never more grateful for the habit of chatter, since the fact that Apollo was initiating a non-work-related, non-nagging conversation was startling. He'd take part in them, especially if others were around, but it had been several sectares since he had started one of their old discussions. "I hope you're keeping an eye out for something a bit smaller than new worlds to explore."
"That's your job, Starbuck."
"General paranoia? I can do that."
"That's why I keep you around," Apollo said.
Starbuck could hear Apollo's sharply indrawn breath as he heard the words he'd just said. He wasn't sure exactly what to say in response so he went with his instinct, presuming on yahrens of knowing the other man, and just opened his mouth and let words come out. "And here I always thought it was my charming personality and dashing good looks. Or is it the other way around?" Halfway through the sentence he decided he'd lost his mind.
Then he heard Apollo laughing. "You really are an original, aren't you?"
"I try," Starbuck said with relief.
"Starbuck... I'm sorry." The words came across the headset, traveling across metrons of cold empty space between them, slightly halting, entirely heartfelt.
"About what?" Starbuck asked, trying to keep his own voice calm.
"I don't love you the way you want me to."
"I know that. I didn't mean to tell you—"
"Hey, Starbuck, you'd better let me finish. It's taken me a long time to get started." Apollo laughed his self-deprecating laugh. "If I stop, who knows when I'll get back to it? I'm sorry because I reacted badly. I didn't mean to hurt you... I do love you, Starbuck. Just not 'like that'."
Starbuck could hear the quotes around the phrase.
"I hope I never did anything to make you think otherwise. And I hope you can forgive me for my bad behavior over the last few sectares."
Starbuck waited but that seemed to be it. "It's my fault," he said breezily. "I should have kept my mouth shut. I never planned to say anything to you, because I know you don't share the feeling. Nothing to forgive."
"Well, that's my fault. I was on your case about the baby... well, her mother, really. And that's not my business. And I had no business implying your private life was interfering with your job performance."
"Well, that's true," Starbuck conceded magnanimously.
Apollo laughed again. "Your job performance was always sub-standard."
"Hey, I resent that."
"But you don't deny it."
"I'm not dignifying it with a denial."
Apollo laughed. Starbuck couldn't remember the last time he'd made Apollo laugh, really laugh, twice in a conversation let alone three times. They'd gone on to talk about fatherhood, deep-space exploration, and whether they still had time to get into the upcoming Triad championships — "that'll depend on whether I can convince childcare that Triad is part of my duty schedule."
"I'll tell 'em it is," Apollo had said.
Starbuck had taken a gamble then. "So," he'd said casually, as if the answer didn't matter, "you want to stop by after we get off?"
"Sure," Apollo had said; he'd even sounded relieved. "I have to pick up Boxey, but you don't mind if he comes? He's been missing seeing you."
"No, I don't mind Boxey. When did I ever mind him?" He'd seen Boxey only a couple of times in the past half-yahren, briefly, and once at Athena's for lunch.
"I can think of a few occasions," Apollo teased.
And that had been damned good to hear.
So now he felt tired but good as he went to pick up Zephyr, Apollo having headed further down the hall to collect his son. He looked around the infants' play area and spotted her, playing with some soft blocks. "Zeffie! Daddy's here."
"Hi, lieutenant," Ilestra popped up from nowhere, as she often seemed to. "Wait here a centon," she urged him.
He glanced at her and then back at Zephyr, who had pulled herself to her feet by using the blocks' storage box, the way she'd been using the kava table or a chair at home over the past several sectons. Now she stood there, balancing uncertainly, and apparently giving serious thought to walking. He looked back at Ilestra. "Has she been walking?"
"Not yet," she said. "But she will, real soon. I thought she might for you. You shouldn't miss that first step if you can avoid it."
He realized she was right. He shouldn't. He took a couple of quick steps towards Zephyr and got down on one knee, holding out his hands. "Zeffie, come to Daddy," he invited in his best coaxing voice.
"She said 'Daddy'!" he said delightedly, looking at Ilestra. "Yes, Zeffie, Daddy!"
"Well, she said 'da', anyway," the childcare provider said.
"She meant 'Daddy'," he insisted. "Come on, Zeffie, you can do it."
"Da!" Zephyr repeated, pointing at him. "Da!" And then she let go of the box and took two steps, wobbling ferociously.
He caught her hands and steadied her for the next two and then she thumped into him, crowing delightedly. He picked her up, feeling like echoing her. He settled for spinning around with her, something she loved, and saying, "That's my girl!"
"Da!" she cried, patting his face. "Gaa mok!"
"Sorry, Zeffie, I don't know what that means," he grinned at her.
He turned to see Apollo and Boxey standing next to Ilestra, all three of them smiling.
"Did she just say 'Dad'?" Apollo sounded delighted.
"In front of witnesses, her first word. That's my smart girl," he added to her.
"That's your baby, Uncle Starbuck? She's cute."
"Yes, she is," Starbuck said. "This is Zeffie. Zeffie," he sat on his heels in front of the boy, "this is your big cousin Boxey."
"Hi, Zeffie," he said. He held out his hand and she caught it, giggling at him. He smiled at her. "Is that all she can say, Uncle Starbuck?"
"Well, she's barely a yahren old, after all. But now she's started, I expect she'll get better."
"Pretty soon you'll wish she hadn't learned how, lieutenant," Ilestra said. "I'm so glad you were here for that first step. See you tomorrow."
"And walking?" Apollo said. He shook his head. "I'm a little jealous, I think. Though it was nice Boxey was out of diapers."
"Dad!" the boy protested. "Did she have a nice birthday party?" he asked a little wistfully as they headed toward Starbuck's quarters.
Starbuck was startled. "A birthday party?" he said. "For a one-yahren-old? We didn't have one... were we supposed to? I doubt she'd have understood the concept."
"Well, it's really not for her," Apollo said. "It's for you. Next year you'll know better."
"Parties for babies," Starbuck shook his head. "Very strange."
"How old were you when you had your first birthday party, Uncle Starbuck?" Boxey asked.
Starbuck looked at Apollo. "Seventeen," he answered.
"Seventeen??" Boxey couldn't believe his ears.
"Yep," Starbuck said, "at the academy. Your dad gave it for me."
"Was it nice?"
"Yes, Boxey. It was a good party," Starbuck looked at Apollo again, and then at Zephyr. Okay, I'd forgotten... birthday parties from now on, Zeff. Since that's what families do for babies.
"Starbuck," Apollo said later, when Boxey was ensconced in front of IFB's 'Children's centare' raptly watching 'Tales from the Word'—though 'Tribal Legends', which followed, was actually his favorite. Zeffie was sleeping and the two men were sitting in the service room, trying not to hear the broadcast.
"I was thinking... when was her birthday, exactly?"
Starbuck recalled the date he'd put down on her papers. "Four days ago," he said.
"Good," said Apollo. "You were on duty. I was thinking, we could have—I mean, you could have a party for her day after tomorrow, when Blue Squadron's off. If you had it late in the afternoon, anybody from Yellow who wanted to come could, and same for Athena. And Father."
"Your father?" Starbuck was startled. "Your father would come to Zeffie's party?"
"He certainly would. I think he'd react like Boxey did, inside, if he thought you'd given a party and not asked him... Starbuck, he's very fond of you. You have to know that."
"Well, I didn't think—"
Apollo interrupted. "He wouldn't have approved of her mother's profession. You're right. Or... but that's in the past. He does approve of your taking care of your daughter. And he'd hate to think you thought he wanted to cut you off. You should know him by now: he likes to be the patriarch, gathering everyone around him. He'd really love the chance to add Zeffie to his extended family."
"Well," Starbuck considered it. Truth be told, it made him feel good to hear that Adama liked him; sometimes he'd felt like he was put up with for Apollo's sake. He'd been pretty sure Adama was severely conflicted over the idea that he and Athena were dating... every now and then he'd caught the old man's eye on him and wondered why he was involved with her in the first place, the glare was so promising. And not promising good things, either... On the other hand, though, "Apollo, I know there's no way to keep Zeffie from knowing about her mother. For that matter, I'm not convinced it would be in her best interests if it could happen—but that's an equinus of a different color. The thing is, I know your father and his views. I don't want Zeffie getting... I mean, if he wants her around, he'll... Okay, what I mean is—"
"What you mean is," Apollo said, "he's the Commander. He's about as important as you can get, plus he'll be an elder-figure for her. And you don't want her hearing bad things about her mother from him. And you're right. She shouldn't. I don't think it'll be hard to convince him not to talk about her to Zeffie. I mean, that's your business, not his."
"True," said Starbuck. "If that's understood—I mean, I don't want to get into it with the commander..."
"Think of him as a nosy uncle."
"That's not as much help as you probably thought it was," Starbuck pointed out.
"Oh. Right. Sorry... Look, I'll talk to him, okay? And I expect Athena will, too." Apollo grinned. "And he'll have a few yahrens to get used to the idea. After all, she won't understand him for a while."
"True," Starbuck said again. He leaned back in his chair, deeply contented, moreso than he could remember being in a long time. Boxey in the next room, Apollo right here, Adama still liking him, Athena close, and Zeffie, sleeping safely in her room, walking and calling him "daddy"... "I think I'm dreaming," he said. "So don't wake me up."
"Okay, I won't," Apollo promised. "Starbuck..."
"You know I'm getting Sealed. With Sheba," he added.
Starbuck snickered at the delivery. "I should hope with Sheba. She'd kill you if you said somebody else."
"Look—I don't want to hurt you—"
Way too late, thought Starbuck, keeping his pyramid face on.
"—so don't hesitate to say 'no' or, well maybe not punch me, Boxey's here, but... I meant what I said before, you know? I really would like it if you'd be my best man."
Starbuck couldn't decide if he felt like laughing or crying. But crying would not only be unproductive, it would upset everybody else, so he smiled and said, "I'd be honored. Really."
"Great." That was heartfelt. Apollo reached out and put his hand on Starbuck's arm, first time he'd touched him in six sectares. That alone made it worth it, Starbuck decided.
"Try to wait for me this time," he said lightly.
"Well, you try not to go jaunting off to a basestar, okay?"
"I'll try to resist any invitations that get thrown my way," he agreed dryly, adding, "although at least Sheba's capable of flying your wing."
"Like she'd give up her squadron for that."
Starbuck just grinned, not saying what he'd give up for it, and asked, "So, do I get to put together a bachelor party this time?"
"I wish you wouldn't."
"Too bad. I'll keep it boring, don't worry."
So it transpired. Apollo, nervous enough to nearly choke himself on the cape of his dress uniform, Sealed with an entirely serene Sheba. Starbuck supported him—nearly literally—and Athena stood with Sheba, while Adama performed the ceremony, with the High Priestess blessing the couple. Everybody who was anybody was there—the son of Adama and the daughter of Cain was the wedding of the millennium and a symbol of the future.
Or possibly the past, Starbuck thought, but he knew why he was moody so he kept his thoughts behind his nice white teeth, as Matron had always advised, and didn't spoil anybody's good mood. He kept one eye on Apollo, one on Boxey, and one more that he didn't know he had kept catching Athena's icy blue gaze from the other side of the aisle. Both of them were wearing happy expressions that were lies. He wasn't sure how many people could see through Athena's, he didn't think he could have if he hadn't known her since she was fifteen. His he had every confidence in; he had lots of experience at it.
After the ceremony, Boomer came up to speak to Starbuck. He was seeing Cassie steadily now and she was still maintaining her distance from Starbuck, talking to him only if he turned up in the Life Center and she couldn't find someone else to deal with him. That bothered him, but there wasn't anything he could do about it and her decision hadn't been a total surprise. Anyway, he wouldn't have done anything differently if someone had offered him a chance (barring only that confession to Apollo), so he didn't spend much time thinking about it. Boomer was in the unenviable position of having a girlfriend who hated one of his closest friends and refusing to give him up. But if anybody could handle that it was Boomer, who simply didn't go where people tried to push him.
"You dress him?" he asked Starbuck, grinning.
"Gods, yes. It took me all morning to get him presentable," Starbuck said.
"I remember back at the academy," Boomer said reminiscently. "I used to win money on Firstdays, getting plebes to pick out which of you two was the colonel's son and which the first-generation inductee. They never did."
Starbuck grinned. He liked the dress uniform, always had, and knew without, he thought, undue vanity that he looked damned good in it. Apollo, on the other hand, thought it was way too fussy, and he was constantly getting the pectoral tangled and tangled up in the cape, the same cape Starbuck wore with flourish. Apollo hated the whole thing.
"I could do it again today. I'm surprised he even wore uniform," Boomer added.
"Sheba wanted uniforms," Starbuck said, shrugging.
"Why?" Boomer was puzzled.
"He looks good in it," Starbuck said. "Once you get him in it. I'm sure she had her reasons, but we don't talk."
Boomer raised a skeptical eyebrow.
"Oh, we talk," Starbuck clarified. "To each other, just not with each other. I think she doesn't like me. I'm not sure, though."
"Well," Boomer said philosophically, "wives are supposed to hate husband's best friends. So far Apollo's on a roll."
"Well, at least they don't tell him they hate me."
Boomer laughed. "True. But they've known how far they could go."
"That's reassuring," Starbuck said, altogether seriously.
"You all right, buddy?" Boomer turned serious as well.
"I'm fine," Starbuck said. "Okay," he conceded to the Leonid's look of disbelief, "maybe 'fine' is a little strong. But it was going to happen. He thinks Boxey needs a mother, and if it wasn't Sheba it would be somebody else."
"Which doesn't answer my question."
"I'm all right."
Boomer gripped his arm. "You need someone to talk to, you know where to find me."
"Thanks, Boomer. I mean it. Athena's coming over tonight... as soon as we can decently escape."
"Good," Boomer said. "I don't think you should be alone tonight, but I'm not sure I'm the right person... But call me if you need to. Any time."
"Thanks," Starbuck said again. "But I'll be all right."
Boomer stayed a couple more centons and then went back to Cassie, not hurrying. Starbuck stayed long enough to dance with Sheba—something else he did better than Apollo, despite dancing lessons or the lack of them—and make the obligatory toasts, and then, pleading the need to collect Zeffie from childcare before she started to think of it as home, he congratulated Apollo and Sheba and left.
He went straight to the childcare center, not changing first. Zeffie spotted him as he came in the door and made for him on still unsteady feet, calling "Da, Da!" and reaching for him. He caught her in his arms and swung her up in the air, losing his melancholy in her gurgling laugh. "Daddy's here, and we're going home now," he said. "What have you been up to, Zeffie?" He tucked her red hair behind her ears, shaking his head. "Am I going to have to cut this to keep you from getting it tangled? Maybe we'll try braiding it, hmm? Would you like that?"
She said something serious and incomprehensible and reached to pull at the semi-precious stones on his pectoral.
"Don't mess with that," he said, "it's very expensive."
She laughed and put one of the strands in her mouth.
He laughed. "You listen as well as I do. Let go of that." He disengaged her from it and raised her to his shoulder. "Now, don't spit up on this," he said, "suede is hell to clean." She tugged on his hair and burbled to him cheefully for the rest of the walk home.
As it turned out, the next Sealing Starbuck went to was Boomer's. Although the Leonid was Reformed Word, and Cassie was only nominally anything, they asked the Commander to marry them and he agreed to perform the ceremony. Boomer had found himself having to choose for his best man between someone whose wife hated his fiancée and someone whom his fiancée hated. Being Boomer, he shrugged, split the difference, and asked them both. Cassie, who was mellowing according to people she actually talked to, accepted that. So two of her life center colleagues stood with her, and Apollo and Starbuck both supported Boomer—not in uniform, to Apollo's relief. Boomer was happy, Cassie was radiant, and they made a spectacular couple when they danced their first dance as a Sealed couple.
Eight sectares after that, Flight Sergeant Barton from Red Squadron sealed to Corporal Rigel from Athena's operations section on First Watch. Athena approached Starbuck on Rigel's behalf to see if he'd allow Zephyr to be in their ceremony, Barton being an Aquarian, whose people often had flower girls. Starbuck didn't mind at all, as long as Rigel and Barton realized that Zeffie was just over three and apt to lose interest half-way through. They didn't mind, so Starbuck found himself at the first of what proved to be several Sealings where Zephyr, in a lacy concoction utterly unlike anything she normally allowed herself to be put into, with her mane of red hair laced through with ribbons, solemnly carried artificial flowers in front of the bride.
"I can't believe she's so good about it," Starbuck confessed to Athena after Rigel and Barton's ceremony was over and Zeffie was perched on a chair carefully eating some SealCake and watching the dancing.
"Women love weddings," she said, her blue eyes sparkling.
"Maybe so, but she's only three," he protested.
"Well, maybe she just loves being the center of attention. Sort of like her father," Athena teased him.
"Maybe," he agreed. "She was cute, wasn't she?"
"She was," Athena agreed instantly.
Apollo, there in his capacity as Strike Captain and Barton's commander, and Sheba paused by them on their way out the door. "She was amazingly well-behaved," Sheba said.
Starbuck fought the urge to treat that as an insult and said only, "Thank you."
"And when can we expect to come to your Sealing, Athena?" Sheba turned to her.
"When I send invitations," Athena said. "But don't hold your breath."
"Don't be too picky," Sheba advised.
Apollo said, "We'd better be getting on. We need to pick up Boxey. Zeffie really was cute, Starbuck."
"I could kill her," Athena muttered.
"Murder in front of a bride is bad luck, isn't it?" Starbuck said. "Please tell me I didn't pass up a perfectly good opportunity."
She laughed despite her efforts to stay annoyed. "Dance with me," she said, "and then you'd better take Zeffie home before she eats too much or finally reverts to her usual self and ruins that dress."
"Sure," he said. He enjoyed dancing with Athena, who was much better at it than her brother—though he sometimes wondered if Apollo would follow better than he led. He shook that unprofitable thought away as soon as he was aware it had come back and concentrated on his actual partner. When the dance ended they made their way around the periphery of the floor and found Zeffie, curled neatly up on two chairs, sound asleep.
"I think I stayed too long," he said ruefully.
"Oh, I don't know," Athena said. "I mean, she's not causing any trouble. And she's getting her sleep."
He picked Zeffie up carefully; she didn't wake, just snuggled herself into his arms and sighed. Athena looked at him and sighed herself. "You two certainly look... complete," she said. "She's a lucky little girl."
"Not as lucky as me," he said softly, looking at the sleeping child. "It's really amazing, 'Theni, how much I love her."
"I can tell," she said. "It's all over you. All over both of you. Come on, I'll walk you home."
At his quarters he invited her in for a cup of kava. She accepted, teasing him when she realized she'd have to make it while he put Zeffie to bed. He offered to let her braid Zeffie's hair (or come by in the morning to comb out the tangles if it wasn't) but she retreated precipitately to the service room and the kava brewer, informing him when he joined her that she'd had enough experience with that on the child's end not to want to be anywhere near it.
"No kidding," he said. "At least twice a secton I have a nearly overwhelming urge to just cut it off."
"Starbuck, you wouldn't dare!"
"I might. I'd regret it, I know..." He shook his head. "But she can be an absolute handful when her hair's in a million knots."
"But it's so lovely... was her mother's hair like that?"
"Don't hit me," he said, "but I don't really remember. It wasn't red," he added, knowing that Sheba had seen her.
"Well, red can come from nowhere," she said. "And anyway, sometimes your hair looks a little red."
Starbuck blinked, catching himself thinking that made sense. Damn, but sometimes if he didn't forget Zeffie wasn't his. In fact, earlier today he'd been brushing her hair before taking her to the Hall, and caught himself wondering if maybe his mother had had red hair. After talking to Chameleon he'd about convinced himself his mother was a blonde, like Cassie; when that had fallen through, he'd still decided it made sense if his attraction to Cassie was partly based on a fuzzed-out half-memory of his mother... but whether that was true or not, his mother wasn't going to look like Zeff. He decided to change the subject.
"Was Sheba just needling you, or is there someone you've got your eye on?"
"Oh, damn her," Athena said. "She should be examined for witchcraft, I sometimes think."
"Sorry," he said quickly. "Forget I asked."
"No, it's all right," she said. "I'd like to tell someone... someone who won't tell me to forget it."
"Well, I can promise not to say that," he said. "There is someone?"
"Yes." She sighed. "Someone who... well, I can't say he doesn't know I'm alive because he talks to me every single day. But certainly someone who doesn't seem to have noticed that I'm, well, the opposite gender."
"You're sure he's interested in the opposite gender?" Starbuck asked carefully. He'd certainly never had any doubts about Adama's opinion on this topic, and Apollo had pretty much run and hid for six sectares at the very notion...
Athena just shrugged, however. "Lords, Starbuck, if that was it, well, it would be different. But he's not interested in anybody as far as I can tell. I know he was married before the Destruction... I guess he just can't get over her."
"Some people can't 'just move on'," Starbuck agreed, thinking about himself. Lord knows he'd tried often enough. He might have been happier just being celibate... well, okay, no. But he'd never really been near to replacing Apollo in his heart. He probably never would.
"No," she said. "We can't." She sighed. "I suppose I should look around and find someone else, but, it just seems so empty."
"You're all right," he said.
She smiled at him. "Thanks... I mean it. And I'd better get home before Sheba starts spreading rumors about us." She stood up, and then said, "You do know I'm joking? I don't care if she spreads rumors or not."
"You ought to," he said. "If you're talking about who I think you are, he won't ever make a move on you if your name is coupled with someone else's. He's too patrician... and I mean that in a good way."
"I don't know if living my life in the hopes that he'll notice me is such a good plan," she said. "But I'd better get home anyway. We're on early shift tomorrow."
"Well, being late to work won't impress him, that's for sure." He rose and kissed her cheek. "Sweet dreams, 'Theni."
"Hey, Boomer—come in here a minute, would you?"
"Sure." Boomer walked into Apollo's office. "What's up?"
Apollo had a pleased look on his face. "Well, I finally got Tigh and Father to sign off on the promotions list. You know we need three more squadron leaders after Hobbie quit and Marron got pregnant and Felix got careless..."
"Yeah, it was a bad secton," Boomer nodded. "You mean you convinced them to give Starbuck a squadron?"
"Finally. I'm going to miss having him on my wing, but the last four yahrens he's really been steady. The only person who deserves a squadron more than him is you, and you knew you were getting one... everybody knew it."
"I know. Starbuck doesn't even have a book on it," Boomer grinned. "Long time coming... but I know why."
"Yes," Apollo said. They both knew. The next step for Apollo was colonel, but there was no place for him to go, and thus he couldn't vacate the strike captain slot for Boomer, who would probably have been on a battlestar yahrens ago. If there'd been a battlestar for him to go to. "So, I thought I'd give Starbuck Purple, since he's always saying that's a good color for him."
Boomer laughed. "Sounds like an excellent reason to me."
"So, do you have a preference? Red or Yellow?"
Boomer didn't hesitate. "Yellow."
"Thought so," Apollo nodded. Yellow deployed with Purple when squadrons went out in twos.
"The only person I know better than Starbuck is you," Boomer said, "and nobody else even has a clue what he's going to do next, steadied up or not."
"True, as he himself would say. I was hoping you'd say that. Bojay can have Red; it's nominally second to Blue and it should keep him happy for a while."
"Nothing will keep that man happy," Boomer said.
"I know. But getting a squadron should help." They both knew it wouldn't, really. But Bojay's promotion to acting captain a few sectares before they'd met the other battlestar hadn't lasted (there could only be one captain), and he wasn't the senior lieutenant on the Galactica. It was rough on him, but his attitude didn't make anybody want to make it up to him. Apollo continued, "And I didn't want to put him in Yellow, even though you deserve Red."
"Bojay and Starbuck working together? When daggets fly."
"Glad you agree... You're still senior to Bojay, Red and Yellow notwithstanding."
"Well, as long as you keep your butt in one piece, sir, that won't matter, will it?" Boomer said pointedly. "Make sure you get a good wingman."
"I was thinking about taking Barton out of Red. He used to fly with Ortega, and he's good."
"Besides, Bojay has a thing about Aquarians..."
"Besides, as you say..."
Boomer laughed, but there wasn't much humor in it.
"Well, I guess I take the three of you for drinks tonight."
"Oh, well, that should be fun. I wish I had a kid of my own, so I could leave early."
Apollo laughed. "We'll survive."
When Starbuck went to pick up Zephyr, he found Boxey there, 'helping'. Ilestra took him aside and said, "Lieutenant, the Captain's son showed up here a couple of centares ago. The Captain and Lieutenant Sheba are both on patrol, and while I could have called Lieutenant Athena, the boy wanted to talk to you... I checked with the middle school data base, and you're down as a contact, so I decided to wait for you. Do you want to take him, or should I call his aunt?"
"No, I'll take him home," said Starbuck. "I'm guessing he's not supposed to be out of school?"
"Well," she said, "they're still in session... but he's been fighting, I think."
Boxey fighting? That wasn't like him. Starbuck thanked Ilestra and walked over to the boy. "Hey, Boxey," he said.
Boxey looked sideways up at him. "Hi, Uncle Starbuck. Can I go home with you and Zeffie?"
The boy stood up quickly. Without looking at Starbuck he said, "I'll get Zeffie."
Starbuck stood where he was and waited till Boxey brought her out of the play area. She was telling him about the baby tooth she'd lost—it had been loose that morning when Starbuck had dropped her off at the center. Boxey asked her if she'd saved it for the tooth hob.
"Of course," she said, and pulled it out of her pocket to show him.
Tooth hob? What the frack is a tooth hob? thought Starbuck. He didn't want to ask Boxey, because if it was something everyone was supposed to know it would upset the boy to find out Starbuck didn't. Boxey had gotten more sensitive in the last yahren or so, it was easy to upset him... He'd have to ask Apollo when he took Boxey home.
"Come on, kids," he said. "Let's go."
"Daddy! See, my tooth came out! I'm not a baby any more!"
He smiled at her. "I see."
"Boxey's got an owie," she informed him.
"Yeah? Let me see."
Boxey pulled away.
"C'mon, kid," Starbuck said. "I know you were in a fight, and you can't keep hiding half your face forever. Let me see."
Boxey reluctantly faced him.
"Frack, Boxey, how the hell did you do that?" Starbuck reconsidered his words just too late, and then decided this was the kind of situation where they were justified. And if Boxey repeated them to his parents, well, that would be his defense. "Are you sure you don't have a broken cheekbone?" The bruise was going to be spectacular.
"I'm okay, Uncle Starbuck," the pre-teen was getting sulky down just fine, Starbuck noted. He hoped Zeffie skipped that but had little reason for confidence. "Nothing's broke."
"Well, does the other guy at least look worse?"
That startled Boxey, who'd obviously been expecting to be chewed out. "Well... no. But I did get him good at least once."
"You need to do better than that," Starbuck said. "Skinny kid like you, you should have speed on them... what were you fighting about?"
Boxey looked at the corridor floor and shook his head. "Nothing."
Yeah, right. Starbuck let it ride till they got to his quarters. "Zeffie, go on to your room for a while, okay? I need to talk to Boxey."
"Okay, Daddy. I'm going to put my tooth up for the tooth hob and then I'm going to read in my book so I can read to you tonight."
"Okay, sweetheart." Tooth hob... later. He looked at Boxey, who was standing there with what Starbuck immediately recognized as fear mixed with anger. Not a good combination in the best of times, and not something Apollo's son should be showing... "Okay, Boxey, let me see your face."
"Yeah, you probably are, but your father will kill me if you should drop dead in my front room because you have a brain hemorrhage and I didn't check you out. Let me see."
Boxey submitted to a quick check. To Starbuck's experienced eye and hands he was, actually, okay. "Bruised but not broken," he said. "So, what was the fight about?"
"Nobody collects a mark like that over 'nothing', Boxey—"
"I'm not a baby! Don't call me that!"
Starbuck blinked. "Don't call you what?"
"Boxey is a stupid name," he said bitterly. "A stupid baby name. I hate it."
Starbuck sympathized. "What do you want to be called?"
"Well," he said, "my real name is Bokildjan... I know. It's awful. My father was a Libran. And my mother was an—"
"Extremely nice woman. Who probably loved her husband."
"I hate 'Boxey'. It's dumb."
"I'm sure your mother would have stopped calling you 'Boxey' by now. So why don't we come up with something else?"
"I hate my name."
He didn't really blame him. What some people did to their kids... He didn't suppose Boxey was in the mood to contemplate being called 'Greenbean', though. "Well, maybe you could shorten it some way besides Boxey?"
"To what? Killer?" he asked, with a sideways glance.
"I don't think so," he said. Apollo would hate that, and Boxey would too in another ten yahrens.
"Well, just plain 'Bok' is as bad as Boxey, almost."
"It is kind of flat. Let me think... How about Djan?" he suggested.
"Djan... hey, that's kind of cool," he approved. "Djan."
"Yep," he nodded. "Sounds like a grown-up name."
"Cool, Uncle Starbuck. Will you help me make Dad use it?"
"I'll do my best." He regarded Box—Djan for a minute. "So, is that what the fight was about?"
"Punching somebody over your name's kind of overkill, Djan," he said. "I've got a feeling something else is behind this. You want to tell me, or save it for your dad?"
Djan turned away, muttering something.
"Didn't quite catch that."
"I should go home."
"Well, your parents aren't home, so you're going to your aunt's, your granddad's, or back to the care center." Djan's thin shoulders stiffened, and Starbuck felt compelled to add, "If you go anywhere. You can stay here."
Djan was finding one of Starbuck's photos intensely interesting. The picture—of him and Apollo and Boomer when they were seniors at the academy, in dress grays with the black capes and silver braid, Apollo, despite his cadet-colonel's insignia, still looking like he was about to strangle himself while Boomer looked competent and Starbuck, if he said so himself, dashing—was a good likeness of them, but hardly fascinating even if Apollo hadn't had a copy of it where Boxey—Djan—had been able to see every day for the past five yahrens. Starbuck sat on the couch and wondered exactly what was going on and what, if anything, he should say.
His silence seemed to be the right course of action, however. Djan said, suddenly, "Did Dad ever get into fights when he was a boy?"
"I didn't know him when he was a boy," Starbuck said carefully, "but according to your aunt, and your Uncle Zac who you never met, yes. He did, now and again. He got into a couple at the academy, but he wasn't a boy then."
"He did?" That sounded a bit hopeful. "He was bad sometimes?"
And disturbingly familiar. It shouldn't have... Djan shouldn't have that concern. But nonetheless, Starbuck could hear Director lecturing boys: and if you're bad, if you fight or disobey or are insolent, you'll be sent back here. And we have too many boys who want homes to waste second chances on bad boys... Starbuck shook off that memory, which surely didn't have anything to do with this, and said, "Yep. He was bad sometimes. Not really bad, I expect; I doubt he ever tortured felixes or set fire to buildings. But your aunt's told me a few things about him. He grew up into a paragon, but he wasn't always like that."
"So he won't send me away if I'm bad?"
"Send you away? Where would he send you?"
"To the Orphan Ship. He's not really my dad—"
Starbuck reached out and spun the boy around, staring into his dark eyes. "Djan, listen to me. He is your dad. Absolutely, positively, and with no room for argument. He's raised you for the last five yahrens. He loves you. And even if that wasn't true—which it is—you're not an orphan."
"My real parents are dead."
"Your mom is dead." Starbuck wasn't going to try and convince Djan that Sheba was his mom; the boy was too sensitive to nuance to believe that. "Your biological father is dead. Apollo is your parent, though. Your real parent. When he married your mother he became your father."
"There's papers and stuff. He never signed them."
"Yes, he did." Starbuck was sure that if Apollo hadn't it was because nobody had bothered to tell him he had to. And that he'd sign them in a heartbeat once he knew he had to... so this wasn't a lie. It was a higher truth. "He'd never take a chance on losing you. Did you ask him?"
"No... she didn't sign anything."
Starbuck bit back saying Djan was better off without that. "If it comes to it, which it won't if we have anything to say about it, you've got an aunt and a grandfather. And even me, I'm in there. But your dad couldn't send you away if he wanted to, which he never will. Especially not for getting in a fight. You got that, kiddo?"
Djan sighed and hugged Starbuck. "Got it."
"Good. Now, I'd offer you a mushie if I thought you weren't too old—"
"Lots of really old people like mushies, Uncle Starbuck!"
"Mushie!" Zeffie came barrelling out of her room.
The three of them were playing triktrak when Apollo came looking for his son. Zeffie had to count out her moves before she made them, but she was sharp on strategy. She was a better player than Djan already, and Starbuck feared she'd be beating him before too many more yahrens.
"Starbuck—" Apollo's voice was aggrieved.
"It's just triktrak. We're not even playing for chips," he protested.
"I lost my tooth, Uncle Apollo," Zeffie informed him. "I'm not a baby any more."
"I see that," Apollo said. "Did you save it?"
"I already put it under my pillow."
Which reminded Starbuck he needed to ask about that. "Apollo, come into the service room for a minute, I need to ask you something."
"Sure. What is it?"
"What the frack is a tooth hob?"
Apollo stared at him for a minute and then laughed. "Oh, man. It's a good thing you asked."
"I guessed that. What is it?"
"It's a hob, like a fairy or sprite or something. A homely spirit. It collects children's teeth and leaves a cubit."
Starbuck looked at him. "You mean, I leave a cubit."
Apollo grinned at him. "Yes. Cheer up, she's only got twenty-eight baby teeth."
"There's a lot of deception involved in giving kids a really good home life, isn't there?"
"I never thought of it like that—"
"What else is there? I mean, I know about Grandfather Frost at Midwinter...not that Midwinter is going to mean anything to Zeffie, or any of the little kids. But what else is there?"
Apollo shook his head. "Stop by my office tomorrow—no, I forgot. Meetings all day... Next secton sometime. We'll go over it."
"You're on." Starbuck decided to wait till Djan wasn't around to bring up his suspicions. But—"By the way, your son has decided that he hates being called Boxey. It's a stupid baby name."
"Oh. Well, it is sort of... Did he say what he does want? I don't know if I can call him Bokildjan."
"You're in luck; he hates that too. He settled on Djan."
"Djan. Well, I can live with that. Thanks for the heads up."
"No problem. A whole cubit?"
Apollo laughed. "Yes. A whole cubit."
The doorsignal rang twice, short and sharp rings. "I'll get it, Daddy!" Zephyr called. He heard her running into the front room and cocked an ear to make sure it was somebody he wanted her talking to. "Aunt 'Theni! Daddy, it's Aunt 'Theni!"
"Well, tell her to come in, Zeffie."
"Come in, Aunt 'Theni. Are you staying for dinner?"
"I don't know," she said, "you'll have to ask your dad."
"Daddy?" She ran into the service room. Athena followed her, her pale blue eyes alight. "Can Aunt 'Theni stay for dinner?"
"There's plenty," he said.
"I will, then, thanks... Zeffie, I need to talk to your dad. Run off and do whatever you were doing when I came, can you? We'll read something after dinner, okay, sweetie?"
"Okay," she said, then, "Daddy's not in trouble, is he?"
"Not a bit of it," Athena said, laughing. "I want his advice, as a matter of fact."
"Good." Zephyr smiled, her huge brown eyes lighting up. "Daddy always knows what to do. He'll help you."
"I've got at least one person snowed, anyway," Starbuck said, leaning back against the counter. "What's up, 'Theni? You look... I don't know."
"Like I just got hit—hard—up the side of the head?" she asked. "'Cause that's how I feel."
"Ummm... you look like it was a good thing, though."
"Oh, gods, yes."
"Okay, I'll ask. What hit you?"
"The most incredible pair of dark eyes," she said, smiling.
"Oh?" This sounded good.
"Have you ever looked at somebody looking at you when they didn't know you could see them?"
"No," he said after a moment's thought. "I'm not sure how you could."
"In a reflective surface," she said. "Not a mirror, they'd know it even if they weren't thinking about it. But a nice shiny unexpected piece of tallium steel... and he was looking at me."
"It's his job, isn't it?" Starbuck grinned.
"Not like that, it isn't," she said. "Or you'd have gone into ops."
"So the whole ops staff knows?"
"You would think that was funny," she said, "but, no. We weren't on the bridge. We were in the ready room. After a briefing. Just us..."
"Ah. Promising situation. What did you do?"
"Do? Nothing... Starbuck, we were on duty."
"You could have done something even so." He cocked his head and looked at her. "You would have five yahrens ago."
"I wouldn't have had to with you, if that's what you mean," she riposted. "You're not the type to stand around staring your heart out at somebody and never say anything."
"Actually, I have done that."
"Really? At who? Or at least why?"
"After we get you sorted we can talk about me. Maybe over some ambrosa," he added thoughtfully, "and you can tuck me in when I get sappy and pass out."
"That'll be new," she said. "But don't think I won't remember."
"I'll hold you to it..." And he meant it. Boomer was supportive enough, but he really identified more with Apollo in the matter, and couldn't comprehend the length of time involved. Athena would be on his side, and she'd been carrying her own torch for what, six yahrens now? Longer... But getting back to her situation, he said, "You do it when you think saying something will ruin your working relationship. Your friendship. End with your getting bounced off the nearest wall and never spoken to again."
"I don't bounce people off walls," she protested.
"He can't think I would. Can he? I don't want to bounce him off a wall... though I wouldn't mind getting him up against one," she added reflectively.
Starbuck grinned at her. "Maybe you should."
"Starbuck! That would probably scare him to death!"
"Well-brought-up boy, was he? Too bad. You sure he's not too quiet for you?"
"He's not quiet, he's steady."
He winced theatrically. "Well, that explains why we didn't work out."
"No kidding. But seriously, Tigh depends on him. He couldn't run the ship without him."
"Job security. A good thing."
"Seriously, 'Theni, you know I want you to be happy. And gods know you've been waiting long enough. Want me to find out where he goes off duty and drop some hints?"
"What? Not what a brother would do?"
"Not exactly. Do you want to hear what my brother said, yahrens ago now?"
"Not helpful? Surprise me... I am trying to be, you know. Helpful."
"I know. And you're right, too. I should do something."
"Take him to dinner."
She looked puzzledly at him.
"Over on the Star. Get a private room. Tell him you've invited three or four others from the shift if you need to. Get him alone. Tell him. What have you got to lose? Tell him you've been trying not to mess up your working relationship but you can't ignore your feelings any longer."
"I could do that."
"Sure. Then jump him—just kidding. Though if it seems right—"
"Sound-proofed," she smiled. "I remember."
He grinned at her. She hugged him and said, "I can do that. Like you said, what have I got to lose?"
Over dinner, while Zeffie pushed her primaries around on the plate hoping they'd disappear, Athena and Starbuck discussed restaurants on the Rising Star, cheerfully ignoring how long it had been since either of them had been there.
"Aunt 'Theni," Zeffie said suddenly, "why don't you and Daddy get married?"
Athena stared at him; he stared back. "She asked you," he said, then turned to Zephyr. "Zeffie, you don't ask questions like that. It's not polite."
"Sorry," she said. "But why not?"
"I already asked!"
"Your dad and I used to date," Athena said.
"'Theni, she'll never learn if you answer her."
"I don't mind," she said, having regained her composure. "It was just a bit unexpected. Because I don't think of your dad like that anymore, Zeffie. We tried it and it didn't work. We're friends."
"Right," he said. "Besides, your Aunt 'Theni's about to get a boyfriend."
"Really?" Zeffie said eagerly. "What's he like?"
Starbuck answered before Athena could. "He's very smart. Very tall. Very handsome."
"What does he look like?"
"Well, he has dark brown hair and dark eyes your aunt thinks are incredible."
Athena was blushing; he hadn't thought she could.
"What does incredible," she pronounced it carefully, "mean, Daddy?"
"Unbelievable. Wonderful, your aunt means."
"Aunt 'Theni, is he as good-looking as Daddy?"
"Well," Athena looked at him. "At the risk of making him more stuck-up than he already is—probably not quite."
"But he is very attractive," Starbuck said seriously. "And he and your aunt will be good together. We weren't. It doesn't work for everybody."
"Like you and Mom?"
"Yes. Like that. Your Aunt 'Theni and I, we were meant to be good friends."
"Will you still visit when you get Sealed, Aunt 'Theni?"
"You're moving much too fast, Zeffie," she said. "We're not even dating yet."
"But Daddy said—"
"Yes, well, he's moving too fast, too."
"Come on, 'Theni, you'll get him."
"Argh! Two of you is too many! But, yes, sweetheart, I'll always visit. I wouldn't stop seeing you for anything."
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Three days later, Zephyr a centare in bed and him starting to think about turning in early himself given that he was off the next day and Zeffie not in school and he could anticipate an early—a very early—waking up, Starbuck opened his door to find Athena standing there with a bottle of nectar. "Ah," he said. "Come in. Was I expecting you?"
"You should have been," she said. "You said you wanted to talk. You said over ambrosa, but I don't have any so I brought this." She held up the bottle. "It's some of Father's good stuff. He gave it to me for my thirtieth birthday... I think he's given up on a Sealing."
Starbuck remembered. "And should he have?"
She smiled at him, all sparkling, but said, "We're supposed to be talking about you tonight."
"I said after we got you sorted out. Are you?"
She smiled again. "Oh, I think so. I think so... mind, he's not as precipitate as you. But nevertheless, I think so. If I have anything to say about it."
Starbuck laughed. "He's done for... you don't want to save that?"
"I've got ale," he said. "And it's certainly not worth irreplaceable Aquarian nectar that's older than me... Save that for your Sealing night."
"Okay," she capitulated. "If you're sure..."
"Ale is fine." He went into the service room to get it.
Once they were settled on the couch, she turned to him. "Okay, tell me. Who did you carry a torch for? Mind you, I'm trusting that it isn't somebody that will make me want to puke. Like my sister-in-law, for instance."
"Oh, gods," he said. "Credit me with some taste." But he was finding himself shy of telling her, suddenly.
She leaned into him, companionably. "Tell me if you want," she said. "Don't if you don't. You know I'll keep it a secret. But I found it helps to talk to someone, preferably someone who'll be on your side. I will. Like you were for me all these years. And I've already figured out it's got to be someone at least a little unsuitable, or you'd have told my brother."
He laughed; he couldn't help it. "It is. But I did. 'Cause it's him."
She looked at him for a long moment as if she were trying to gauge his sincerity. Her eyes were unreadable at first, and then melted into compassion. "Oh, Starbuck," she said, and put her arms around him. "Oh, you poor thing..."
He hugged her back, relieved to have been right and a little surprised at how right.
"Oh, gods. I can't imagine it... well, maybe I can, a little. And you told him?"
He nodded. "Back right after I got Zeffie. He told me... well, he said he didn't reciprocate the feeling. Plus get lost... though he changed his mind about that, thank the Lords of Kobol."
"So that's what was wrong with him!" Athena said with the satisfaction of having an ancient mystery cleared up.
"What do you mean?" Starbuck said.
"He acted like a lunatic for a good half-yahren after you got Zeffie. I never could figure out why she, you, whatever, was affecting him so much. He even let Sheba get him to say something she could take as a proposal. I mean, they get along all right, I'm not saying they don't. He's happy enough, but he's not in love with her, not really. It was you. I should have known it," she concluded. "It's always you when he gets really crazed."
"'Theni—" he started to remonstrate.
"Sorry, Starbuck, but it is. He only loses his head over you and Boxey. Djan, I mean. I'm sure you don't want to be in the same category as Djan, but it's true, I'm afraid... Everybody else he loves he manages to keep cool over." She shrugged. "Like Zac. It was a good thing, really, it wasn't you out there. If he'd lost you—"
"If it had been me out there we'd have both got back," Starbuck said.
She nodded. "You're probably right. Not that that makes it your fault. Apollo let him go. If the Cylons had been honest—" she broke off.
"Yeah," he said. "Figure the odds on that. I never have been able to understand how we got suckered into believing that story."
"Well, that's water under the bridge now," she said. "Anyway, I'm so sorry for you, Starbuck. I can only imagine what it must be like, having him say he didn't love you. But I can imagine... no wonder we're all such cowards most of the time."
"I guess he makes me crazed, too," said Starbuck.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, he got me annoyed and I told him. Something I had intended never to do."
"That's not 'cause you were annoyed," she said with calm certainty. "It's because you needed to be done with it."
"You had something you had to give all your time and energy to," she said. "You had Zeffie. You couldn't afford to be spending time wondering what did that look or that phrase really mean. It had to be out in the open, even if it was not what you wanted to hear."
Starbuck thought about that for a few centons, sipping his grog reflectively. "You're right," he said finally, a little surprised. "How did you know that?"
She shrugged. "Try being Adama's daughter," she suggested. "You don't have anything to do but watch all the important people and figure out their motives, because you're just decorative."
"Your father struck me as smarter than that."
"Sometimes he remembered I have a brain," she admitted. "In fact, sometimes I think he was using little me as his secret agent... but sometimes he wasn't. Apollo got asked for his opinions. I got asked to dance."
"Well," he couldn't resist saying, "it would have done him good to be asked to dance a few more times."
She giggled. "Isn't it the truth? For someone who sings as well as he does, he has two left feet."
"Right feet," Starbuck corrected.
"You know, you're right."
Starbuck was waiting in the Life Center while Zephyr got her checkup. "I'm a big girl now," she'd said with all the authority of eight yahrens. "I don't need my daddy to see a doctor. Not just for shots and stuff." So he was in the waiting room, hoping she wasn't regretting her decision, when Cassie came on duty.
They looked at each other for a couple of centons and then she said, "Frack this, Starbuck. I've missed talking to you. Can you forgive me for being such an idiot?"
Her directness took him off guard. She hadn't used to be so blunt—unless she was truly angry—but he supposed five yahrens' living with Boomer had had its effect. From what he'd seen, she didn't seem to feel the need to be constantly, well, acting like someone. She was just being herself. Hard to be anything else around Boom-Boom, he reflected. And it would make things a lot easier all the way around if he and she could be invited to the same parties again. "Sure," he said easily. "You weren't the only one caught unprepared."
"I was the one who spoke way out of turn, though."
"True," he acknowledged. "But it's been more than seven yahrens, now. I'll forget it if you will."
"It's a deal," she said, and hugged him briefly.
"You look good," he said. "I mean it. Married life seems to suit you."
"It does," she nodded. "How are you doing? I suppose your social life has slowed down," she added, with that little half-smile he'd always liked.
"Oh, I don't know," he smiled back. "You'd be surprised how many women find a man with a little daughter irresistible."
She shook her head at him, her earrings catching light. "Only you would think of your daughter as an accessory."
He looked carefully at her, but she wasn't serious. He was relieved. Maybe he hadn't ever loved Cassie, but he'd missed her. "Nah, you've got it backwards. Women are a fringe benefit to having a daughter. I'd give them up in a micron for Zeff."
"You mean that, don't you?"
"Yes. Nothing in the universe is as important as she is. Nothing. No one."
"You know," she said, "it's very odd, but you are actually more attractive now than you were seven yahrens ago... gods. It's spooky. Where's my own husband?"
He grinned. "Hundreds of metrics from here."
"I don't know," he said, looking across at the exam room. "I feel pretty damned corriged sitting in those parent-teacher conferences. Especially when they tell me Zeffie's sabotaged the math tutorial. Again."
"A chip off the old block," Cassie smiled.
"Well, at least I understand her motivations."
She laughed. The door opened and Zeffie came out, carrying a mushie.
"She's certainly growing up into a beautiful little girl," Cassie said.
"Yes," he said with pride.
"Daddy," she said, "Dr. Salik gave me this mushie for being so good. I told him you should get one and he said I should split it with you."
"Your boss is cheap," he said to Cassie. "Zeffie," he added while Cassie laughed, "this is Cassiopeia. She's studying with Dr. Salik."
"Hello," Zeffie said. "You're going to be a doctor?"
"Are you Squadron Leader Boomer's wife?"
"Yes. Your father and I have known each other for a long time."
Zeffie didn't ask where Cassie had been; she was, Starbuck reflected, fairly well used to friends of his popping up. Instead she just said, "It was very nice to meet you. Can we go now, Daddy? I don't want to miss 'Tribal Legends' today."
"Sure, sweetheart," he said. "It was really nice to run into you, Cassie. Don't be such a stranger."
Zephyr pushed for the turbolift and waited, whistling an old tune softly and holding her books to her chest. She'd been to the library by herself and needed to get home before her father did. She wasn't supposed to go places alone, everybody said so. Daddy. Uncle Apollo. Aunt 'Theni. Boomer and Jolly and all the other pilots. Djan, with all the superiority of his fourteen yahrens. Even his step-mother. Elder Adama didn't but that's because the subject hadn't come up. All the other things he thought little girls shouldn't do, he was bound to think going to the library by themselves was one of them. But she was nearly nine and not a baby anymore, no matter what anybody said. And it was just to the library, after all...
A tall brown-haired Colonial Warrior in pilot's uniform pushed to go up and looked down at her. She made herself hold her ground and not step away.
"You're Starslut's daughter, aren't you," he said after a moment's staring, his voice very unpleasant.
"Squadron Leader Boray, isn't it?" she responded.
"You've got a mouth on you," he said, his color rising. "Just like your old man."
"Thank you, sir," she said earnestly.
"I ought to slap some manners into you."
"If you think it would be worth it," she said. She sounded just like her father at his most insolent, though she didn't know it.
They stared at each other, knowing themselves enemies. The lift signal rang and the door opened. "It's up, sir," she said.
He glanced around and saw two more warriors in the lift. With a look that promised it wasn't over, he got in.
Zephyr wondered if she should tell her father, but it was hardly the first time someone had insulted her, and she could handle it without bothering him. Especially since Captain Apollo would get mad at him if he got in a fight with Bojay. And he would get in a fight over it; he always got mad, unless the insults were only about him. Besides, the only person she'd ever heard say anything good about Bojay—excepting his skills as a pilot—was Djan's stepmother, and that said it all right there. The man wasn't worth worrying over.
Her own turbolift came and she got in, anticipating the new stories and forgetting all about the encounter.
"Daddy! Daddy, look!"
Starbuck turned and looked. "Nice, Zeff!" He called. "Good position. Cross-check!"
Five little girls smashed into each other, sticks swinging. Athena winced. "I don't remember playing that hard," she murmured.
"I'll bet you did, though," Omega said, sliding his hand up her back to rest on her shoulder.
"Probably," she nodded. "Just another one of those childhood memories we block."
Starbuck wasn't noticing. "Zeffie! Cross-check her! Cross-check! That's my girl!"
The whistle blew for the half. Starbuck turned to them and said, "Be right back." Then he put his hand on the railing and vaulted over, like a man half his age, landing lightly four metrons below and trotting over to where the girls were standing. When the redhead saw him coming, she ran to meet him. Athena leaned against Omega and watched. Starbuck leaned over, talking to her; she watched him earnestly. He took her stick away and showed her how to hold it and mimed what looked like a vicious check.
"Ouch," Athena said. Omega laughed.
Zephyr took the stick back and executed the move. Starbuck grinned—Athena could see it from where they sat—and pushed her hair off her forehead. She put up with it, listening to what he was saying. The coach called her back and she ran off, and Starbuck came back to his seat. Athena was glad to see that he didn't try to jump up twice his height and pull himself back up but instead climbed the stairs.
"That looked illegal, Starbuck," she said as he settled back in his seat.
"Cross-checking?" He gave her one of his better innocently amazed looks. "'Theni, I'm surprised at you. Cross-checking's not illegal. If you do it right it's not even a hard foul."
"Fouls aren't illegal?" she raised an eyebrow.
"Fouls are a strategic part of the game," he protested.
"True," Omega agreed. "A well-timed foul takes the ball out of their hands and, hopefully without their managing to score, gets it to your team. If it were illegal, you'd get kicked out of the game."
"Men," she said. "You just like seeing girls hit each other with sticks."
"That might explain why I went to your games when you played for the Academy," Starbuck agreed, "but it doesn't explain why you were out there hitting..."
"Getting hit," added Omega.
Starbuck is a bad influence on him, she thought. I'll have to get them together more often. Out loud she said, "That's just so you men will come and watch. Sort of like Triad uniforms..."
"Ow," said Starbuck. "Touché." The whistle blew for the second half, and Starbuck turned his attention back to the field. "All right, Zeffie," he yelled. "Get 'em!"
Athena leaned against Omega and smiled.
"About time you got here," Boomer said. "Starbuck and I were about to leave a message with the bartender and go home to our womenfolk."
"Sorry," Apollo apologized. "Couldn't get away any sooner. How's Cassie?"
"Big as a shuttle but happy," he said, beaming himself. "Her ankles are swelling, but otherwise she's fine... How'd the meeting go?"
Apollo took a long drink before answering. "Good, in fact. We finally hammered out the whole thing and got Council approval. It's done, thank the Lords of Kobol."
"I don't see why we need it," Starbuck said, playing his role. "I mean 'Squadron Leader' is enough for me. We all know the score."
"We know it," Apollo agreed, "but that doesn't make it palatable. What are we going to do, go for another ten or twenty yahrens, ensigns never making flight officer, flight officers never making lieutenant, lieutenants never making captain—"
"And captains never making colonel, we get it," Starbuck said. "What else is there to do? Start assassinating our superiors so we can make rank? We're sort of stuck. Aren't we?"
"Well, you might not want to make captain, but others do. It's recognition if nothing else," Boomer said.
"I didn't say I didn't want to make it," Starbuck shook his head. "It's extra pay if nothing else, and Zeff's about to get expensive if everyone's right about teenagers."
Boomer snorted. "That's true enough, o mercenary one. You are in for a hard time." He turned to Apollo. "What did you decide? You making colonel?"
"No. That would be a bit confusing," Apollo said. "One colonel at a time, the council feels, and Father agreed with them. What we settled on, and what he finally got the Council to sign off on, is a new rank, between colonel and captain."
"That'll work," Boomer said. "What are they calling it? You?"
Starbuck raised an eyebrow.
"Well," Apollo said defensively, "it's metrons better than what the Council proposed. I was not going to introduce myself by saying, 'Hi, I'm Super-Captain Apollo.'"
Starbuck snickered. Even Boomer choked back a laugh.
"My point exactly." Apollo signaled the servitor. "One more and then I'm off, too... Anyway, next secton you two, and Sheba and Bojay and Dietra and Jolly all make captain. Also my sister, and Kelvin and what's her name on second watch—"
"Charis," Starbuck supplied helpfully.
"Trust you to know... yes. You all make captain."
"Captain Starbuck... now that has a nice ring to it."
"It has a distinctly surreal ring to it, you ask me," Boomer said, grinning.
"Then I don't think I will."
"And you make this sub-colonel?"
"Omega and I both. Strike and Ops."
"Nice for 'Theni," Starbuck observed. "A big jump in pay for both of 'em."
Apollo considered that for a moment. "Well, at least he's not Father's son-in-law yet."
"Oh, come on," Starbuck objected. "Sure he's allying himself with the royal family, but nobody can doubt he's getting this on his own merits."
"We're not the royal family," Apollo objected.
"Come on, Starbuck, lay off the sub-colonel," said Boomer.
Starbuck did. It was a sore subject, actually. Anybody with eyes could see it happening, but in fact Apollo wasn't any happier about it than Starbuck, so there was no point in harassing him over it. He went backwards a bit for a less contentious subject. "You really think we'll be out here another twenty yahrens?"
"Oh, who knows? What did you used to say?"
"Before you told me to knock it off 'cause it upset your father?" Starbuck grinned. "I used to say, you ask me how to get to Umbra from Caprica City and I say, walk due west. Which is all fine and dandy... except it's four thousand metrics. You're gonna be walking a long damned time."
"Yes. That's what I mean... we've got a heading, and no distance units at all. Who knows how long we'll be traveling. Who even knows whether they think about time at all?"
"A thousand yahrens is like a day," quoted Starbuck.
"You are a very depressing man, Sub-Colonel," said Boomer, semi-seriously.
"True," agreed Starbuck.
"Okay, Captains, I can take a hint. I'm going home. See you later."
Athena came into the squadron leader's office. She was still in uniform, so Starbuck assumed she was just finishing up her duty shift.
"Hi," he leaned back in the chair and looked up at her. "What's up?"
"I can't decide," she said reflectively, sitting on the corner of his desk, "why it is that if you'd ever asked me what 'Captain Starbuck, squadron leader' would be like, I'd have said 'an unqualified disaster', yet it seems to fit you like your dress uniform."
"Is that an insult?" he asked, though he was sure it wasn't.
"It wasn't meant to be," she said.
"Then all I can say is, you're not the only person who wonders."
She laughed with him, then sobered up again. "Things seem so strange, don't they?"
"Any things in particular?"
"Well... here we are. Eleven yahrens and we can only assume we're closer to Earth than when we started... but we're just going on."
"I know," he said. "Sometimes I think we should pick a nice planet and just stop. The kids don't even know what grass is. Or weather." They stared at their own little dark places for a centon or two and then he shook himself out of it. "Did you want something, 'Theni? Or did you just come because you can't bear not seeing me every three or four days?"
That won him a laugh. "I've got a request, Starbuck. Well, two, though I guess Zeffie's old enough now I should ask her herself to be in my wedding."
"I would never have guessed she'd set a fashion for being in Sealing ceremonies, all things considered," he said. "I think she will for you, though at eleven she's feeling a bit old for flower girling." He paused a minute. "I guess I should say congratulations, shouldn't I?"
"It is customary."
"So's running in squealing when you announce it," he teased.
"Starbuck, I'm well over thirty. I don't run and squeal any more."
"Too bad for your husband."
"Starbuck," she said, "grow up."
He pretended to consider it. "Naah," he said. "What was the other thing?"
"Stand up with me," she said.
He stared at her. "You're serious?"
"You're my best friend," she said seriously. "I want you there."
"What does Omega think?"
"He likes you," she said.
"I like him, but that's not what I meant."
"He thinks it's fine. Really. He thinks I should have whoever I want, and traditions don't matter as much as we think they do any more."
"Most people think they matter more," he observed.
"He's not the most conventional man I've met, in a lot of ways."
Starbuck looked curious, but all he asked was, "So who's he picking? Rigel?"
"Idiot," she said. "He doesn't have a whole lot of friends... Tigh is standing with him."
"Tigh?" He exaggerated his amazement but not by much. "He's got Colonel Tigh and you're picking me?"
"What does who he has have to do with it?" Then she relented. "Tigh's probably the person he's closest to on the ship, besides me and you. He'd have asked you if I didn't want you."
"He's definitely the felix that walks by himself, isn't he?" Starbuck said, referring to one of Zeffie's favorite stories. Not that she'd ever seen a live felix except on instructional field trips to the agro or livestock ships.
Athena grew pensive. "Gods, Starbuck, he lost so many people it's really surprising he ever decided to take a chance again."
"You'll make him glad he did," Starbuck asserted.
"Or know why," she agreed. "So? Will you?"
"If you want me, I'd be honored." Then he smiled. This was beginning to give a whole new meaning to the old saying, always standing with, never standing...
"What are you grinning at?"
He pulled something out of the air. "I don't have to buy something frilly, do I?"
She laughed. "Gods, it would be worth it... something lacy and off the shoulder..."
"I think I have to wash my hair that day." He was laughing, too.
"Oh, what a picture," she gasped. When she finally got herself under control—an undertaking sabotaged twice by an injudiciously timed look at him—she said, with obvious reluctance, "No. We decided on dress uniforms."
"Oh, well, then..." He smiled. "You know I'll be happy to."
"You know what I was thinking?" Boomer asked as the three of them walked away from the ready room, off-duty at last and heading for the O Club and a drink before going home. "If we could figure out some way to get you on one side of the enemy, and Bojay on the other, and then tell him where you were, anybody up to and including a base star who was on line of sight between you would be incinerated."
"It's not funny," Apollo remonstrated. "I don't like having two of my squadron leaders hating each other's guts."
"I don't hate Bojay," Starbuck said.
"Like hell," Boomer said conversationally.
"He's not my favorite person in the universe," Starbuck conceded. "We used to get along okay, back before he got transferred to the Pegasus. Absence certainly didn't make our hearts grow fonder, but it's not a big deal. We can work together. If we have to—"
"You may not hate him," Boomer said. "But he hates you."
"I've been hated by better men than him. I'm still here." Starbuck shrugged. "Besides, hate's a strong word."
"Yeah, well, I agree with Boomer. He hates you. I don't know why, but he does. So far it's not interfering with his duty, but... and you don't make it better, you know that, Starbuck."
"I don't hate him, but he's an idiot," Starbuck protested. "I can't pretend I don't think so. You want me to support his lame-brained schemes?"
"No, but you could try being a little more diplomatic in the way you reject them."
"Something besides 'only the emperor of idiots would think that was a good idea'," added Boomer.
"Okay, maybe that wasn't as tactful as it could have been—"
"You think not?"
"—but it was probably as tactful as I could have been, under the circumstances. I mean, come on, Purple Squadron is not the official source of sacrificial lambets for the fleet. Glory's all well and good, but what's the point of it if you're not around to capitalize on it?"
"Starbuck," Apollo remonstrated.
"Oh, sorry," Starbuck grinned. "What I meant was, we're willing to share the glory with the rest of the wing. Especially with Red Squadron. We're willing to let them have the rest of the suici—er, I mean, medal opportunities for the rest of the yahren."
"I just bet you are... What is it between you two, anyway?"
"I don't know. Just your basic personality conflict, I guess."
Starbuck had no intention of going into it with Apollo. With anybody, in fact, but with Apollo least of all. Bojay could glare at him from now till the Endtimes; it wasn't going to go any further than that, because Starbuck knew what was going on. They both did.
Starbuck had liked Bojay once, though they'd never been extremely close, not like him and Boomer for instance. Very not like—they'd fallen into bed together once or twice after drinking or when the adrenaline surged too high. But then Bojay had been transferred. And then when he'd come back...
Five days after Bojay got out of the life center, almost two sectons after the Pegasus had taken off again, Starbuck had walked into a turbolift to find Bojay there. And been greeted with: "You better keep your mouth shut about me."
Starbuck had blinked. "Listen, Bojay, you've never been my main topic of conversation."
"Yeah? You better keep it that way."
"Look, just because we used to—" Starbuck hadn't gotten to finish.
"Shut the frack up," Bojay had snarled. "I don't do that any more. I learned better on the Pegasus. That was a righteous ship. I saw the light there."
"How nice for you," Starbuck had said, and it had ended with him having to leave Bojay gasping for air in the corner of the turbolift.
But he didn't hate Bojay. He felt sorry for him. He knew the kind of light Bojay had seen on the Pegasus: the kind that came when four or five pairs of boots were kicking you senseless. Starbuck had glimpsed that light himself. The difference was, Bojay had started carrying it around himself and Starbuck just headed for the darkest shadow he could find when he spotted it... But as long as he didn't let Bojay and any of his buddies from Silver Spar catch him alone someplace deserted, there wasn't anything to worry about. And by now, over ten yahrens later, well... Bojay was all glare and no dare, all talk, no walk.
So there wasn't any point in talking about it with Apollo, who wouldn't be at all happy to hear it, any of it.
So instead, Starbuck dismissed it all breezily and said, "Djan still talking about joining up?"
Apollo smiled. Starbuck hoped he looked at least slightly more intelligent when he talked about Zephyr. "Yes," Apollo said, "he is. He's taking the tests next secton. It's all he can talk about. Well, it's all he's ever wanted to be, you know."
"He's got quite a tradition to live up to," Boomer observed. "I'm hoping Callie and Corrie want to be doctors, myself."
"You know," Apollo said, "Starbuck here was cruel to his daughter, depriving her of a pet. But I'll just bet your two would love a dagget—"
In the discussion which followed they forgot Bojay.
Which was a mistake.
Because Bojay wasn't forgetting them.
"Zeff?" Starbuck was starting to get very worried. It wasn't like her to shut herself up in her room and not talk. Slam around their quarters and yell, yes, but not this quiet silence.
She didn't answer.
"Zeff, if you don't at least let me know you're still alive, I'm going to have to come in and check on you."
After a moment, her door opened. She looked at him through tangled red hair that hid half her face; her eyes were distressed and there was a catch in her voice when she said, "No, you won't."
"Zeff, what's wrong?"
"It doesn't matter," she said. "It's okay."
"Yeah, you look like it's okay," he said, reaching to push some of hair back behind her ears.
She pulled away, and then, quite suddenly, the tears in her big brown eyes overflowed and ran down her face and she grabbed him, hanging on like she was afraid he was going somewhere. Without her.
He held her close, clueless as to the cause of her pain and feeling a helpless anger that was frightening in its intensity. "Zeffie," he said. "Please tell me what's wrong."
What she said startled him with its apparent innocuousness, but only for a moment. "We had our blood typed today in life sciences."
He wasn't sure what to say. He wasn't even sure why he'd never thought about this moment, which was almost bound to come up. Probably he'd been thinking it was someone else who'd find out and that it would be to his advantage to appear ignorant and surprised...
While he was thinking she was going on, not knowing he already knew. "I'm a 3." When he still said nothing, she repeated, louder, "A 3!"
"3 is lucky," he said, for want of anything else. He needed to know why she was upset before he started talking, that much seemed clear.
"3s have to have a 1 and a 2 for parents! I've seen your identity tags! You're a 0! You can't be my father. My mother lied to you..." she sobbed again, trying half-heartedly to pull away. "I'm not yours..."
Okay. Problem identified. He tightened his arm around her shoulders and stroked her hair, carding his fingers gently through the unruly locks. "I knew that, Zeffie," he said. "I knew that all along."
She stopped trying to pull away and put her arms around his ribs. "You did?" Her voice was hopeful.
He picked her up and crossed over to sit on her bed. She snuggled into his lap, resting her face against his heart, sniffling a little. "You did?" she repeated.
"Your mom was an honest woman," he said. "She never told me you were mine. She came to me for help, because she was sick, just like I said. And then she died. And because I loved you the centon I saw you, I knew I couldn't let them take you away. They would have, Zeff, I was a single man, a fighter pilot and back then we fought Cylons nearly every secton, not just now and again. And I was a little on the wild side—" That got him a chuckle, albeit still somewhat teary. "All in all, not a good bet for child-raising. No one was going to hand me a baby to raise; they'd just have said how noble I was to offer and taken you off to the Orphan Ship. I know, I always did know, I didn't father you, but I've been your dad, and I always will be. Okay?" He put his hand under her chin and raised her face.
She smiled at him. Her face was a little tear-stained still perhaps, but she wasn't crying any more. "You didn't tell anyone, though?"
"Dr. Salik knew," Starbuck said. "He gave me all the forms... I pretty much signed my life away a dozen yahrens ago."
This time her smile was brighter, though still only a shadow of its usual incandescent self. "You won't send me away?"
"Never," he said simply. "And they'll take you away over my dead body—"
He smiled at her, brushing her cheek with the back of his hand. "But since that would prove sort of awkward as far as living goes, I didn't see any point in giving anybody any reasons to start trying." He wondered how long it would take someone to come around about it, and how hard the fight would be, and what his options were...
She grinned at him, her don't-get-mad-now grin. "I didn't know what to do this afternoon," she confessed. "I was all tangled up inside... so I cheated."
He blinked on her. "Cheated? On a blood test? How did you do that?"
"Well," she drew little circles with her forefinger on the front of his uniform shirt under his jacket. "They let us do it ourselves if we wanted. Instead of a tech. And then the tech came around and checked... I was scared. She might know your type or, or, anything. I didn't know what to do... so I took the one with the 2 antigen and threw it away when nobody was looking and I got some more of my blood and put it in a dish and then pretended that I'd put 2 antigen in it. I figured she wouldn't have noticed and she didn't..."
"So," he said, "they think you're a 1?"
"It's okay, isn't it? I mean, 3s can get 1 blood, right?"
"Yes," he said. "It's all right as far as that goes. But you can't give blood to 1s, you know that. And," it occurred to him and he tightened his hold on her, "Zeff, if you were to really need blood and there were only 2s or 3s around—"
"I didn't care," she said defiantly. "I'd rather die. I was afraid if you found out, you wouldn't... and then I knew I had to tell you... Even if—"
She hugged him tight. "I love you, dad."
"I love you, Zeffie. I always have. You're my girl. Okay?"
"Always," she sighed happily, then looked up at him, her brown eyes sparkling again. "If it worries you, when I go in for training I'll be too old for them to take away, won't I? I can get them to type me again, I bet."
"You are my girl, you know that?"
Starbuck yielded to temptation and went into the smoky little bar for a drink on his way back to the Galactica. Just one, to wash the taste of bad news out of his mouth; the worst thing about being a squadron leader was dealing with his pilots' personal lives. Especially when they screwed up... And was it just him, or were they getting younger all the time?
He downed a third of the ambrosa—made last week from the taste—and shook his head. Then he turned around and looked over the bar while he wondered if he wanted to finish it or not. He didn't expect to see anybody he knew, not here, so his eyes had slid over the corner table and moved on before the figures registered. He looked back. It was.
And she'd spotted him, of course.
Now, as their eyes met, Sheba gestured at him to come over. After a moment, he decided to. Picking up his glass, he threaded his way through the dimly lit room. By the time he got to her table, Rail had considerately (or cravenly) gone off somewhere else.
"Sit down, Starbuck," she invited him.
He did. "I wouldn't have thought this was your sort of place."
She shrugged. "I could say the same thing, but I won't bother." Her brown eyes met his, their gaze steady.
"I was just passing," he said, not wanting her to think he'd been looking for her. In fact, he wished he hadn't seen her. Them. Lords knew she didn't seem to spend much of her time with her husband, but the last thing Starbuck wanted to do was get in the middle of that marriage. It had been hard enough to adjust to, but Apollo seemed perfectly content. Still, Starbuck didn't want to be aiding and abetting any more than he wanted to be carrying tales and upsetting him. In fact, he realized, he didn't want his accidental discovery to prompt Sheba into doing something to upset Apollo. But he rather doubted he carried enough moral clout to make her straighten up. Lords, what a mess, he thought. He took another drink.
"Whatever," she dismissed his motions and motives alike. "I'm asking you not to mention, to anybody, that you saw me here tonight."
"Sheba," he started and realized he honestly didn't know what he wanted to say.
After a moment she said, "It won't make Apollo happy to know."
"Asking me to think you care about his happiness," he said gently, "is rather ridiculous, don't you think?"
She shrugged again. "I don't. No," she corrected herself. "I do. Just not anything like as much as I used to. But you do." Her gaze was locked on his.
He was silent a centon. Well, he'd never thought Sheba was a fool. "I guess it depends on what you mean by happiness," he said finally. "But sometimes momentary pain—"
"Momentary?" She almost smiled. "Starbuck, we're Sealed. You can't get out of that. If you believe some of those priests, it lasts after death: we'll all be together in Heaven, him and me and Serina. And won't that be jolly?" she added, her mouth twisted.
He had to sympathize.
"Besides," she said, "he's as happy as he gets, right now. I know him well enough to know that. So do you. So why should all of us be unhappy?"
Because he'd always felt that his conversations with her were fencing matches, he didn't answer that right away. But after examining it he said, "I'm not unhappy."
"I'm glad to hear it." That sounded sincere. "Nor am I, anymore. Nor is he. Why ruin it?"
"I thought you didn't care."
She smiled and ducked her head, acknowledging the hit. "But I'm still fond of him, Starbuck. Not as much as I used to be, but realer, I think. I'm not hurting him. And I don't want to."
"You shouldn't have married him." He was a bit surprised to hear that come out as an observation.
"No," she admitted readily. "I shouldn't have. You'll understand why I did, though." She smiled ruefully. "Though I'll bet you don't really understand why I shouldn't have."
He started to speak, then stopped. Apollo had never let him inside his marriage (not that that was a surprise), but something in Sheba's unusually candid gaze told him that things had never been what they seemed. Quite suddenly he didn't want to hear any more, know any more. Apollo hadn't been happy for a while early on, and now he was; that much was true. If, somehow, that happiness coincided with (sprang from?) Sheba's spending time with someone else, well... Well. It wasn't like Starbuck knew anything about marriages.
And he certainly didn't want to hear why Sheba shouldn't have married Apollo. Not with him locked into the Sealing by vows he'd never want to break regardless of what his wife did. Starbuck finished his ambrosa. "Well, either way, you did. Or he did. And you're right: he's happy. I'm not going be the one that spoils it for him."
"Neither am I," she said, and if her tone left a lot implied but unspoken Starbuck was content to leave it like that.
Out of the corner of his eye as he was leaving he saw Rail rejoin her.
"But, Dad," she insisted, "everybody's going."
"Not everybody," he said as patiently as he could, which, truth be told, wasn't that much. "You're not."
"Dad!" she cried out as though he'd hit her. "Everybody's going! You can't make me stay!"
"'Everybody's going' is not a good reason," he said. "If everybody was jumping out an airlock, would you want to?"
"That's so stupid," she said. "This is just a party."
"If it's 'just' a party, it won't kill you to miss it." He gave up being patient. "And you're going to."
"You can't make me stay here!"
"Yes, I can," he corrected her. "I'm your father. And I'm bigger than you. But I don't have to 'make' you, do I?"
She glared at him. "I hate you!" she announced, passionately. "I hate you forever!" Whirling, she ran into her sleeping room. "And I'm never talking to you ever again as long as I live!" she added before the door shut.
He stared after her with a sinking feeling in his gut. The only way that could have gone worse was if she'd said "You're not my father!" Not that "I hate you!" was much of an improvement. Gods, Starbuck, what made you think you could raise a child?
Zephyr stayed in her room the rest of the evening and, true to her vow, didn't speak to him the next morning before flouncing off to her morning fieldball practice. She did, however, address a bitter comment to her gear: "I'll be the only one there who didn't get to go."
He'd managed to ignore that, though he hoped it wasn't true. He might not be the greatest father in the Fleet, but he sure as Hades knew better than to let his thirteen-yahren-old daughter go off to a party on the Rising Star with only a bunch of friends her own age. And he hoped her friends' parents knew better, too; he didn't want her hanging around with kids who got to do that sort of thing.
And he didn't want to cut her off from her friends; gods knew, that never really worked. Not if Zac had been any indication... He sighed. Adama occasionally muttered things about Zeff's mother, but then again Adama was, like Apollo, almost endearingly naive about why whores got into the business. It was Zeff's father's recklessness Starbuck worried about.
On the other hand, Zeff couldn't get any madder at him. I hate you forever was pretty final. He stared at the wall until the comm chimed.
"Starbuck?" Athena said. "My husband's just told me he's taking an extra shift tonight, don't ask me why because I couldn't tell you, and I've got reservations for dinner. I thought maybe you could park Zeff with someone and join me?"
"Zeff," he said involuntarily.
"Uh-oh," she said. "That sounds ominous. What's happened?"
If it hadn't been Athena he probably wouldn't have said anything. "She hates me."
There was a pause, and then she said, "I'll be right over."
Five centons later she was sitting down across the table from him with a cup of hot kava and saying, "She hates you? That seems very unlikely to me."
"She said she did."
Athena smiled suddenly. "Oh? Did she by any chance say she hates you forever and she'll never ever speak to you again even if she lives to be a million?"
He found himself relaxing. "Is that usual, then?"
"Lords, yes. If I had a decicubit for every time I'd said it... How did you blight her young life, anyway?"
He grinned involuntarily. "I wouldn't let her go to a party. She's pretty mad at me."
"She won't stay that way," Athena reassured him. "On the other hand, this won't be the first time, either." She shook her head. "How'd you miss being on the receiving end one of Djan's snit-fits, anyhow?"
He shrugged. "I guess I never got to say no to him... I usually saw him when he was being moody, looking for support."
"Count yourself lucky. He didn't get mad all that often, really, but when he did..." She blew out a gusty breath and shook her head. "He was awful. I bet Zeff gets over it much more quickly; she's a lot more..."
"Volatile?" suggested Starbuck.
"Well, maybe. Prone to emotional displays."
"So she doesn't really hate me?"
Athena laughed and then sobered up. "I'm sorry... No. She doesn't hate you. Of course not. I think that's hard-wired in teenagers. I don't know anybody who didn't say it to their parents. It's just part of adolescence."
He heaved a sigh of his own. "Just one more thing I don't know."
"You did the right thing, Starbuck," she said, putting her hand on his. "You didn't let her go to the party but you did let her go to practice this morning. You stood your ground and you didn't overreact. And she'll appreciate it."
"That seems unlikely."
"Oh, she will. I know you've heard this, but kids do need limits. She needs to know you care about her, that you won't let her do things you don't approve of. It's proof you love her."
He shook his head. "I don't know, 'Theni. Maybe I'm in over my head."
"Kids don't come with instruction manuals, Starbuck. But you're doing fine. If Apollo could raise Djan, you can raise Zeff."
"He had help."
"So do you. And Zeff will get over this, trust me. She'll be mad for a bit, but she knows you're right—which is annoying her more than anything else, I'll bet. She'll get over it."
"I hope so."
"She will. Trust me." She grinned. "It may take a couple of days, but she'll talk to you again."
He found himself grinning back. "At the moment, I'm not sure I want her to."
"Apollo, will you calm down, for gods' sakes?" Starbuck grabbed him by the arm and yanked him to a stop. "If I have to cuff you to the storage unit to make you stand still, I will." The image that came, unbidden, to his mind almost made him blush.
Fortunately, Apollo didn't pick up on it. Or maybe not fortunately... poor 'Pol, he thought. No games? No even talking about games? Though it didn't surprise him, thinking about it, that Apollo didn't want to play games. It did surprise, a little, that Sheba didn't... he wouldn't have, if Apollo didn't, just Apollo would have been enough but he would have thought Sheba... Though maybe this was one reason why—This is not the time or the place, even if either of those existed, he cut himself off.
Apollo stood still, though. Starbuck tugged gently at the pectoral and untangled the three strands that had somehow wrapped around each other. Then he shook his head and began carefully freeing the small chain that was supposed to be hanging free framing the pectoral but was, as usual on Apollo, wound around the individual strands instead. "When you take this off," Starbuck said, "what do you do, toss it in a drawer?"
"This is stupid."
"Maybe," Starbuck said, "but it's about five millennia of tradition and I don't think you're changing anybody's mind. Besides, it's your son's graduation, and you're the keynote speaker, and you'll embarrass everyone who knows you if you show up looking like this. Stand still!" He spared a moment to wonder why Apollo hadn't even mentioned Sheba's absence, and then shook that off, not really wanting to know, to say, "There. Done. Where's the cape?"
"I'm not wearing that until I get there."
"You sound worse than Djan did back when he was Boxey. It's the uniform. You have to wear it."
"And you sound like my father." But he picked up the cape.
"Come on, Apollo," Starbuck said, "don't tell me you're not proud of him. So he didn't graduate first; he's in the top five percent, and he's a good pilot."
"Of course I'm proud of him," Apollo said. "I've told him so. I never pushed him to go into the academy and I never made him think he had to be first in his class—"
No, but he knew you had, and Sheba made it clear you'd be prouder if he did... But Djan's got his head on straight, I think. He's okay.
"—and I am proud and I want to give this damned speech. I just hate dressing up. You know that."
"Yes, I do. I also know you look good in that, and just because you'd rather be wearing your jacket and blaster doesn't mean you don't. Look good. And there are times when you have to dress up. You know that. Now put on the cape and let's go, or you'll be late."
Apollo heaved a martyred sigh.
"Zeffie!" Starbuck called. "Let's go, sweetheart. Your uncle and I can't be late."
"They can't start without him," she said, but since she was coming out of her room at the time Starbuck let it slide.
"I wish I could wear a uniform," she said.
"A few yahrens yet, Zeff," he said.
"Wow," Apollo said sincerely. "You look beautiful, Zeffie."
"Thanks, Uncle Apollo," she said.
Starbuck regarded her. She did. Her mane of dark red hair was tumbled carelessly around her shoulders—he was pretty sure she hadn't spent much time on it, but it looked very good—and she wore a small pair of silver earrings that Adama had given her on her thirteenth birthday. Around her throat she wore 'Theni's present for that significant milestone, a small iridescent fire opal on a slender chain. Starbuck had protested that gift to 'Theni later, somewhat hopelessly as he'd known there was no way to take it away from Zephyr once she'd seen it, but 'Theni had told him, gravely, that it had been sitting in its box at the back of a drawer in Omega's quarters since just before Cimtar, a present for his youngest sister, and there was no way, even if they had a daughter, that he'd be easy about keeping it and yet he couldn't get rid of it, either. Giving it to Zeffie, though, that worked for everyone. 'He's a lucky man,' Starbuck had said, and made sure Zeffie knew how important it was not to lose it.
Himself, he hadn't realized thirteen was such a big thing for girls. Apollo and Athena had told him, and so had Boomer and Jolly and Dietra... he'd had no idea what to get her. Jewelry was best, they'd all said, and he'd been thinking about hunting along the pawn shops on the Star's lower deck for a ladies' chrono when he'd seen the perfect thing. The whole House of Adama, from the patriarch to Djan, had rolled their eyes when she'd unwrapped it, but Zeffie had stared at it, speechless, for an entire centon and then launched herself over the kava table to nearly choke the breath out of him. She wore the opal a lot, but she was never without the damascene-bladed Sagittan boot-knife with the single brilliant in the hilt.
He was sure she had it now, under that floating dark-green dress she was wearing.
He'd taught her to use it, just as he'd taught her to shoot and to fight barehanded, including every dirty trick he'd ever seen. Looking at her tonight, he realized that fourteen is just shy of fifteen, which is practically sixteen... he sighed to himself. Maybe he'd better sit her down soon and talk about boys.
Not about sex. She knew about that. About boys and what daggets they could be...
But not tonight. Tonight was Djan's big night. And they couldn't be late.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Bojay sat in the O Club, alone, and drank. He preferred being alone. It got harder every secton to pay attention to other people. Especially since they were all sinful.
All of them.
All of the ones who counted now, anyway, and the others were followers, either blind or deluded.
The only possible exception to that was Adama. He wasn't sinful, though he clearly counted for something. But he was deluded.
Adama believed himself anointed by the Lords of Kobol to lead his people through the starry wilderness to the promised land, the shining planet. There was so much wrong with that Bojay despaired of even knowing where to start. But one thing was certain: Adama was not the Chosen of the Lords of Kobol. Who it was had chosen him, Bojay didn't know. But Adama wasn't half the man that Cain had been.
Cain who had saved them all. Twice. And offered himself and those who believed in him as the sacrifice to save the others. A sacrifice accepted. Proving him righteous.
It had been hard, knowing he'd been left behind, unwanted. Until he'd understood. Until he'd realized that only those capable of volunteering then could be taken. The willing. Not the presumed willing, but those who could say so. Cain had had to leave them all in case even one of them would have spoiled the sacrifice. It was no reflection on him.
Not as it was on Sheba, who'd been left conscious and able to say what she wanted. Oh, sure, she'd been wounded, but not so badly. Bojay had heard that Cain had ordered her to stay, but she could have disobeyed. Had often enough in the past. Could have done the right thing. The righteous thing. But she hadn't, and now she was married to Apollo. And perhaps that had been an attempt to save him. But perhaps it had not... Given the failure of it. That she had borne Cain no grandsons...
He'd heard what these Galacticans said about Cain... that he was a coward, or a glory-hunter, or a fool. Bojay snarled into his glass, startling an ensign who changed her mind about asking if the seat was free. Bojay didn't even notice her. Women were beneath his notice any more.
Starbuck. Starbuck was one of the worst about Cain. He'd heard that Starbuck had offered to go with Cain. Even if it were true, which he doubted, look what Cain had decided. He knew what Starbuck was. He didn't want that sort of person polluting the Pegasus. Rendering the sacrificial offering invalid.
Starbuck. Captain. What kind of commander made a man like Starbuck a captain? A slut, a whore-monger, a bastard (undoubtedly) who fathered bastards... Who even knew where he was from? Who'd been there when Apollo was allegedly killed and brought back to life? Sheba, who had failed her father and been rejected by him, who was besotted by Apollo and his position, by worldly power. And Starbuck. If that had actually happened, which Bojay frankly doubted, who'd gotten him killed? Who'd bought his life back? And at what price?
And who had wormed his way into the heart of the once-great House of Adama... Adama the deluded, the misled, the misleading. Losing his wife and son should have been a warning to him.
Bojay signaled for another drink and stared at the table on the other side of the room. Apollo. Prince. Prince of Darkness, most likely. Struck down by Iblis and restored again to work his will. Boomer. A blind follower, like all Leonids, courageous but not smart. Never a thought of his own. And Starbuck. Starbuck... symbol of everything wrong on this ship. In this fleet. This people.
Bojay watched as Boomer rose and went on his way, leaving the other two sitting and drinking. Starbuck. Sitting there at his ease, a bastard nobody, presuming to be the equal of the son of one of Caprica's Great Houses. Bojay knew how he'd done it. With his body. His beauty and his carnality. His sinful lasciviousness. His perversions. With Adama's son, doubtless. With Adama's daughter certainly...
Bojay had been granted visions since the day he'd seen the truth of things, on the blessed Pegasus. He'd seen things hidden from those not chosen. Sometimes he didn't understand the reason at first, sometimes the visions were torment. Such were the visions of Starbuck and Apollo, that deceptively beautiful body leading the prince astray, blinding his eyes and drowning his senses. Sometimes he wasn't sure if the visions were real or if his body was still impure, reacting wrongly... were the images that sometimes filled his mind of Starbuck and the brother and sister real? Or were they false? They didn't come often, and she'd Sealed with another prince of Caprican glory... the next after Apollo, now tied to the House of Adama, the worm-eaten House of Adama... Starbuck and Adama's sons, that was another vision he had, often, that golden flesh between the two darker men...
Starbuck. It always came back to him. He was the Worm. He was the Serpent... he was the evil at the heart of Galactica's exile. And he didn't even try to hide his sinfulness. That daughter walked the corridors of the ship, scarlet whore's daughter... they even talked of letting her be a Warrior. Nameless daughter of a nameless man, wormspawn at the heart of the people.
Look at this whole situation... allegedly handed the map to Earth, and yet still they traveled. When would they realize that you couldn't come through the wilderness until you had been purged?
She climbed into his lap as she had when she was six, and had a scraped knee. He wished scraped hearts were as easy to fix.
"Boys are jerks," she said into his shirtfront. "I hate them all. I'm going to be flit."
"Women are nice," he agreed. "Usually nicer than boys... but men have their advantages."
"Huh. I hate them. I hate them all..."
He rubbed her back. "I'm so sorry, sweetheart. Can I kill someone for you?" He was only half kidding.
"No..." she sniffled a couple more times, then sighed. "He's not worth the prison barge. He's not worth spitting at. If he was on fire."
He tucked her head into the hollow of his throat and wished he knew what to say.
"Dad," she said after a while, "you were a boy. Why are they like that?"
Oh, boy... the emotional talk. He'd made sure the facts she got in school were facts... well, he'd actually covered things with her a bit earlier than the school had. But the emotional stuff... He sighed. "Sex is fun," he said. "Boys are hardwired to want it. I slept around a lot. And boys your age don't really think about how girls feel."
"Did you lie to girls?"
He made a mental note to find this particular boy and bounce him off a wall. Or out an airlock. "I'll tell you, Zeffie," he said. "I lied. But only as part of the game; only inside the rules."
"What do you mean?"
"I never lied about things that mattered. I never told lies they didn't, really, know were lies. And I never, ever told anyone I loved them to get them into bed."
She was quiet a centon or two and then, as usual, went where he didn't expect her to go. "Did you ever tell anyone you loved them at all?"
"Huh," he said, startled. "Well... I did. Actually. I told Cassie several times at least."
"Um-hm," he said, remembering. "I actually contemplated the possibility of sealing with her."
She chuckled; he could feel her smile against his throat. "Contemplated the possibility? Wow. That was serious."
"Yes, it was," he said. "I was..."
"Is this Dr. Cassiopeia? What happened?"
"Oh, this and that," he said, "no one thing, just a lot of things. Like water on a stone... that doesn't mean anything to you, does it? To anybody your age?"
"It means 'little bit by little bit'," she said.
"But you've never seen it." That struck him quite suddenly as sad.
"Oh, don't get all planet-side nostalgic," she said. "Tell me about Dr. Cassie."
"Well," he said, remembering back sixteen yahrens, "she never really shook the idea I was dating her because she used to be a socialator. And I guess I never really shook the idea she was dating me because I didn't care about that. And then I was accused of murder, and she thought I might have done it—"
Zephyr muttered something that sounded uncomplimentary.
"And then somebody from my past showed up, and things got sticky, and then somebody from her past showed up and she went back to him—"
"Instead of you?" Unlike most daughters he'd heard, she sounded sincere.
"Well," he said, "I wasn't exactly a legend—"
"Oh, you are."
"I wasn't Commander Cain."
"The guy who ran away from Molecay?"
"That's my girl," he said with satisfaction. "Yes, him. She loved him."
"Wait a centon. He's Captain Sheba's father, isn't he? Oh, that's icky."
"Yes, well..." he shrugged. "Anyway, then you showed up and that was pretty much it. Cassie was annoyed I'd never mentioned your mom."
"Wait a minute," she said again. "I thought I was supposed to be a surprise."
"You were," he said, hugging her close for a moment. "The best one I ever got."
"Well, I mean," she pursued her thought, "how were you supposed to know you were supposed to mention Mom? Or how would you have been supposed to know, I mean. If... you know."
"Don't ask me, sweetheart. I think she was looking for a reason to break it off, and that was a good one."
"Humph. You're better off without her."
"Probably. Anyway, she and Boomer have been very happy. I'm pleased about that."
"I'm never getting sealed. Unless to another woman."
"Whatever makes you happy," Starbuck said, "makes me happy."
"I wish I could meet a boy like you."
I don't, he thought involuntarily. They sat quietly for a few centons, and then Starbuck said, "Zeffie?"
"I want you to know something. I never told your mom I loved her. We didn't have that kind of a relationship—"
"I know, Dad."
"—but," he went on, "if she'd lived, I think I would have. I didn't know her well, but it's the truth. I learned more about her the night she died than you usually learn about a person in a lifetime. She had courage, tremendous courage. And grace. And love—she loved you so much. She died so well. Thinking about you."
"I love you, Daddy," she said, and hugged him.
Starbuck walked into the room and stood by the podium, looking at the dozen cadets who were looking back at him, their conversations dying away. "Hi," he said. "I'm Captain Starbuck, for those of you who don't know me... are there any of you who don't?"
Nobody raised a hand. It didn't surprise him. None of them were as old as Djan, by several yahrens, and most were only one or two older than Zeff. He'd been seeing them around the childcare center, the instructional center, the rejuvenation center, the courts and fields for... gods. Sixteen yahrens. He wasn't sure of all their names, but he knew most of their faces.
"Okay, that's kind of embarrassing unless I think of myself as a legend, so I think I will. You're encouraged to, too." That got him a laugh. He relaxed a little. If they could laugh this might go all right. "So, since I'm sure you're wondering what I'm doing here instead of Farrell, he appears to have done something fairly stupid to himself and won't be here. Good," he looked around the small room. "No one seems upset to hear that. I'm not replacing your favorite teacher... I know how that is."
He decided against using the podium; it wasn't like he had notes, after all. That's what happened when you got dragooned into substituting on no notice at all. He perched on the corner of the desk and said, "They told me this was a class in Tactics. They also told me someone would be happy to tell me what particular battle you're supposed to be going over today. I hope they weren't lying..."
"Cimtar, sir," several voices answered.
"Cimtar?" he repeated. He looked around again. It was a name to them. An important name, to be sure, like Molecay, Hasara, Semtek, Cosmora, Polon... but just a name. Nothing had ever made him feel so old in his life. "None of you remember Cimtar, do you?"
"No, sir," a couple of them answered.
"Of course not," he said, and looked at his boots for a moment. When he looked up, they were all waiting for him to speak. He shook his head helplessly. "The thing is, I really don't know what I'm supposed to teach you about tactics from Cimtar. About the only thing I can think of that we learned at Cimtar that ought to be passed on... and this is probably one of the most important things you'll ever learn. Take notes. It might not be on the final, but it'll save your life some day."
He was serious and apparently they could tell. The three in the back opened their notepads.
"Okay. Why did the Galactica survive Cimtar?" He looked around the room. "You." He gestured at the dark-haired kid he thought belonged to Athena's friend Altair.
"Because we got warning from the Viper patrol—" he stopped talking as Starbuck shook his head.
"Nope. In your defense, that's the basic story. But it's wrong. Or rather, it's not right enough. By the time then Captain Apollo got here with the warning, there was no time left to do anything. Which is why almost no other ships, and no battlestars, survived. Why did we? Because we were already on full alert... because Ops had a hunch. And that's your lesson."
"Sir, I don't think I understand." He did know that kid, her name was... Morag. Morag with the cute brother who hosted that children's show on IFB and had made eyes at Starbuck the last time he'd picked Zeff up from instruction... Not now, Starbuck, he shook the memory away.
"Okay," he said. "It's simple, but it's different. It goes like this: Ops had a hunch. The commander, the colonel, the bridge officer—Sub-Colonel Omega, by the way—they had a hunch. And they ran battle stations. Personally, I was sitting in the ready room, playing pyramid—yes, I was winning, in fact I was holding a perfect pyramid in purple with a capstone—and suddenly, out of the blue, they scrambled us. We bitched all the way to the launch bays, and we strapped in and sat and bitched some more, and then we got the word and we launched. Because we were already ready. Very nearly no one else launched. Just the one ready squadron off the other battlestars. That's it. And the other ships weren't at battle stations, ready to fight, laser cannons primed and so on and so forth. Ops got a hunch." He looked around. "The lesson of Cimtar is: trust Ops. When the folks in blue get hunches, listen to them. It's what they do... see the big picture, spot the details that just don't match up. It's not Tactics. But it births Tactics. Bitch if you want, and know sometimes they'll make you waste centares cramped up and uncomfortable and trying to remember when was the last time you hit the turboflush. But never lose sight of the fact that when they're right, it's all the warning you're going to get."
"Sir?" Another familiar face without a name, a blonde this time. "What about the actual battle?"
"Battle? Cimtar wasn't a battle," he said. "Cimtar was a rout. It was a ruin, a debacle, an overthrow, a disaster, a complete and total loss, an overwhelming and utter defeat. It was not a battle. If you look "self-inflicted wounds" up in the dictionary, it refers you to Cimtar. There are no lessons from Cimtar. Unless you want to learn the Cylon side... first sucker your opponents by telling them what they want to hear. Then get them to bring their entire force to one place, leaving their home unguarded. Then send overwhelming numbers against both them and their homes, unexpectedly. Then chase them when they run... It's nice if you can do it. We didn't learn any lessons at Cimtar we shouldn't already have known. Baby lessons. Don't trust a Cylon half as far as you can throw one. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Don't throw away your weapons until you can see your enemy's doing the same thing. Don't leave your home unguarded just because the barbarians say they've decided to play nice... Nothing there we didn't already know. We just got tired. We wanted it to be over, and we thought if we just wanted it hard enough it would be true. We bought the lies. We let ourselves get seduced. And we got fracked over. And we're lucky we escaped with as much as we did. And we can't go home again because home's not there any more."
The class was silent. Starbuck had a feeling he'd gone way off the lesson plan. He hadn't done it on purpose, but he wasn't about to apologize for it, either. He looked around at the grave young faces and sighed to himself. Frack, they're going to be Warriors; they deserve the truth. He looked at his wristchrono. "Okay, we seem to have most of the period left. What's on tap for next time?"
"Semtek," one of them said. There was always one who read ahead...
"Semtek?" He perked up. "Oh, now there was a battle. There's a lot I can tell you about Tactics from Semtek. Given that "tactics" basically means "making it up as you go along"—and who knows why?"
"No plan survives contact with the enemy, sir," Altair's kid said.
"Absolute truth," he nodded, and jumped to his feet and grabbed a marker. "The Semtek system," he said, drawing on the board, "a delta-class world, three alphas and one ringed gamma..."
After class, two of the cadets approached a bit diffidently. "Sir," one of them said, "I wanted to say, my dad won't talk about Cimtar. At all. I never understood it... Thanks for telling us what it really meant." She blushed slightly. "And for talking to us like we're grownups."
"You're in that uniform," Starbuck said. "You're grown. And you're welcome."
She blushed again and fled. The other, Altair's kid, said, "Me, too, sir. I mean, my dad sometimes talks about Cimtar. Just generally... he was on the bridge that day, long-range scanners. He had nightmares about it... used to, anyhow. It means a lot that the pilots understand."
"Most of us do, anyway," Starbuck said. The kid's name came, suddenly. "Musa, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir," he seemed surprised to be recognized. "One other thing, sir..."
"I was hoping you'd let me take Zephyr to the Triad championships next secton. My dad says there'll never be another team like you and Sub-Colonel Apollo, but—"
"Flattery will get you a lot of things, Musa, but not my daughter." Starbuck grinned at him.
"Oh, no sir... I mean, that just sort of slipped in there, involuntarily, it wasn't part of my actual plan... I mean..."
Starbuck took pity on him. "You may ask her. She's of the opinion that Triad is overrated, but she might go to the championships. Just be aware of one thing—if you offer her any kind of insult, I'll have to rip your arm off and beat you to death with it." He smiled to show he wasn't serious. But they both knew he was.
"Oh, yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. I mean, I wouldn't—"
"You and I might not agree on what an insult was. And if we did, she might not. But I'll know if she comes home hurt. And you'll know."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
"You're going to be late, Musa," Starbuck pointed out. The boy scurried out.
Zephyr went to the championships. Musa, she said, was 'nice enough.' Starbuck stopped worrying about him, even though he asked her out on a couple of other occasions.
Two sectares later Apollo was telling him, "I'm serious, Starbuck. The cadets said your two substitute tactics classes were the most useful classes they had all semester."
"That doesn't speak well for the quality of their instructors."
"Maybe not. Tigh thinks you should join the staff—"
"Are you serious?"
"I am. And so's Tigh, more to the point. Not full time, you'll still be the squadron leader. But three classes a secton, Tactics."
"I'm not academy material, Apollo."
"We have to take what we can get," Apollo teased and then got serious again. "Look, Starbuck, you're a good teacher. You're the best with the new kids when they start patrols, and clearly you impressed the hell out of those cadets in the classroom. Nobody's suggesting you teach math or engineering, but you're a past master at 'making it up as you go along', which incidentally is a very good definition."
Starbuck hesitated. He'd enjoyed teaching those two classes, he couldn't deny it. "Okay," he capitulated. "Tactics. But I still say you've lost your mind. Both of you."
Starbuck lay awake in his bed, looking up at the ceiling. He didn't look at the chrono, but he was guessing it was a centare before the alarm was due to go off... Purple was on early shifts this secton, but he wasn't exactly staying up late nights. He blew out a breath and listened to the silence. He couldn't believe how quiet the quarters were now that Zephyr was in the cadet barracks. Even though the sleeping rooms were fairly well soundproofed, Zeff pretty much permeated the place when she was home.
He had to grin to himself at that thought. Apollo and Boomer had said the same thing about him back at the academy. Zac had been pretty quiet, he'd thought; compared to Apollo, though, maybe he'd been bouncy. He'd sure been bouncy that last day... Was Zeff what Adama's kids would have been like raised to express themselves? Or was she the product of her upbringing more than her genes, exuberant in self-defense? He didn't know. What he did know was, the place was very quiet with her gone.
And not likely to get much livelier, either. He scrunched the extra pillow up a bit and thought about the last time somebody had been in bed with him. That young man who worked at the field... field. Starbuck snorted. It wasn't a field, it was a empty bay that the commander had decided a dozen yahrens ago to give over to outdoor sports... another term that made him laugh. Outdoors... kids Zeff's age and younger, they didn't know what "outdoors" was. Outdoors to them was vacuum and cold and death.
But be that as it may, that's where he'd worked, that young man... Theas. Starbuck remembered his name; he always remembered their names, until the next one came and displaced them at any rate. Which meant he might well be remembering 'Theas' for a long time. He'd met him at one of Zeff's fieldball games, a fairly attractive dark-haired young man who'd noticed himself being noticed and made a dead set at Starbuck. That hadn't happened in a while, not that persistently, not from someone so much younger than him; it had been incredibly flattering, and he'd let the young man succeed. Zeff had been spending the night with some of her team-mates and Starbuck had brought Theas home. He could remember the feel of the firm, lithe body in his arms, the exhilaration of someone working very hard to drive him out of his mind and the intoxication of returning the favor... he'd enjoyed every centon of it. But it hadn't happened again. There'd been no real connection. There hadn't been one since...
He gave that some serious thought. Cassie? Gods, had it been that long? Not that he hadn't had bed-partners between Cassie and Theas; though it was true that, especially when she was little, Zeff had made logistics awkward, Starbuck had specialized in 'awkward schedules' at the academy. Finding the time had never been a problem. But anyone he'd felt more than a physical attraction to?
Cassie. That was it. Not counting the couple of times he and 'Theni had helped each other through a bad patch... and those were easy to not count because both he and she had known they weren't falling in love.
In a moment of ruthless self-examination—something he tried to do every couple of yahrens whether he needed it or not—he'd realized that having Apollo turn him down so completely had not in the slightest affected his feelings for the other man. He had apparently never really had any hopes—just what he'd said to Boomer and to 'Theni, believing it to be a lie—and he still loved Apollo just as he had before. That emotion had even survived a six-sectare deep-freeze; never once had he been anything close to angry at Apollo. He'd been angry at, oh say Cassie, lots. Lots and lots. He hadn't been sure what that realization actually meant. It surely hadn't meant he didn't want Apollo in his bed: he did. Still. Maybe it just meant that he'd always known he wasn't being unfaithful to his one love by having lovers... and maybe it had meant that he could actually think about settling down with someone. Assuming he could find someone. Which was the stumbling block to date.
And maybe—most likely—it had been the reason why he'd pretty much stopped going after anyone who caught his eye. Because if he wasn't killing time waiting for things to "work out", then, well...
He sighed. Then he should, in 'Theni's favorite phrase, 'grow up, Starbuck.' But there just wasn't anybody out there like Apollo.
Screw growing up, he thought. I'm okay as I am.
Several corridors away, Athena, too, lay awake, unable to get back to sleep. She'd slipped out of bed to go to the turboflush a centare ago, at least, and had been lying there ever since. She wasn't sure why... she hated to chalk things up to hormones but she supposed there was a reason such an excuse existed. She knew when you couldn't sleep you weren't supposed to stay in bed, you were supposed to go someplace else so your mind wouldn't start associating your bed with not sleeping. But, quite frankly, she couldn't see any attraction at all to being awake in the front room, even watching IFB, instead of being awake in bed watching her husband sleep.
She listened to Omega breathing in the darkness next to her, feeling the warmth of his body. She wondered how their mother had tolerated those yahrens-long separations from their father. Not that she wanted, particularly, to think of her parents as sexual beings, though she supposed they must have gone at it pretty good to get three kids under such time constraints. But she liked just having Omega around, liked someone else in the quarters, in the bed... she missed him when they were just on different shifts. Perhaps their mother was more of Apollo's temperament, she mused. He didn't seem to mind when duty kept him and Sheba apart.
Of course, part of that might be because it was Sheba... Athena slapped herself mentally. That was too unkind. She hadn't expected it to last this long, but it was over fifteen yahrens now. And Apollo seemed content.
Of course, Apollo got a great deal of emotional sustenance from others. Father, her, Djan. And of course Starbuck. Athena sighed softly into the night. Starbuck was always there for Apollo. She remembered when Djan had graduated from the Academy. Sheba hadn't been there. She and most of Silver Spar had been on a long-range patrol... she'd volunteered, saying, reasonably, that somebody had to and they were good at it, and this way Apollo didn't have to detail anyone.
All so reasonable, on the surface. All so... so Sheba. You couldn't argue with it. You just couldn't feel like it was ... well, nice. Djan was her stepson, after all. She'd just said it wasn't as though she and Djan had ever been really close, which was true but shouldn't have been, and that he'd understand a lot more if she were gone than if, say, Boomer or Jolly couldn't be there. Or Starbuck, she'd added as if it were an afterthought.
Athena had gone to her brother's quarters to make sure he was presentable (somebody had to) and not found him, and then he'd shown up, perfectly put together, with Starbuck and Zephyr. Athena had thought then, how like Apollo to go there. How like Starbuck to dress him... And how like Apollo not to think of how Starbuck felt about it all. It wasn't that Apollo didn't know. He just couldn't identify with it, and he didn't think about it. And poor Starbuck just went on loving him. She did so wish he'd meet someone new, but not only didn't he want to, who was there?
She wondered how he was getting along now with Zeffie gone. It wasn't as if they didn't see each other, but, she realized, this would be the first time in his life, probably, that Starbuck was living by himself. Even after the academy he'd always been in a Viper unit, which meant a barracks, even if it was a Bachelor Officers' Barracks, with shared rooms instead of open bays like enlisted personnel got. It would be an adjustment for him.
Beside her, Omega turned restlessly in his sleep. She reached out and rubbed the back of his neck gently, moving her hand down to stroke his back and shoulder. He quieted; she hoped he was shifting into a better dream. She had wondered once if she was just attracted to men who had nightmares, but a little thought had convinced her that it was far more likely that most men, most people, her age, especially Warriors whether in brown or blue or grey, had nightmares. Cimtar, The Destruction... how not? Especially men who were so much in control during their waking moments. Like Omega. Like, though she didn't sleep with him, Apollo. Like Starbuck.
Moving her hand soothingly on Omega's back she wondered how Starbuck coped with his nightmares, alone. She could remember him coming awake in the early hours, sweating and gasping for breath, needing to be grounded, held, loved back to calm. Like Omega still did sometimes... but he'd been much too long alone. She smiled at him and wished Starbuck could be half as happy as she was.
Or Apollo, though that brought her back full circle. Was Apollo happy at all? With Sheba? He seemed to be, but he was so good at seeming... He had always been. Found out what you wanted him to be and showed it to you. Not like Starbuck did, as protective coloring, but because you—Father, instructors, colonels, commanders, Father again—must know best what he ought to be. Warrior, Sub-Colonel (Strike), dutiful son, faithful husband, good father... where was Apollo in all that? Elder brother. And of course, when he's the indulgent elder brother, she got lost at the fair, and Zac got killed... She was surprised Djan had ever had any fun. Apollo had certainly climbed walls over the latitude Zeffie had been allowed.
"Athena?" Omega was awake.
She looked at him. He blinked sleepily at her and asked, "Is everything all right?"
She smiled. "Everything's fine."
"Did I wake you?"
She made it a habit to mostly tell him the truth, so when she felt she had to lie he wasn't expecting it. But she didn't have to lie this time. She shook her head. "No, not at all. I'm just lying here thinking."
"This and that. Nothing so important I wouldn't rather be asleep. I'm just awake."
"Wakeful nights are a part of it," he said softly, putting his hand gently on her belly. "And not the worst."
"You're so encouraging," she said, putting her hand on top of his.
"Want me to rub your back?" he offered.
"Ummm," she said. "Yes, love. That would be so nice." She rolled over and rested her head on her hands.
He sat up and leaned over her, pulling her sleeping shift out of the way and taking her shoulders in his strong hands. He was so good at this, easing all the tensions out of her, even when she didn't think she had any. He kneaded her neck and worked his way to her ribs. She sighed and relaxed, enjoying it. After a few moments she heard him singing almost under his breath and probably not aware he was—he sang a lot around the place, songs she'd never heard, secular and maybe heretical and very old. She liked them. Usually.
"The White Stag goes running, the forest is dim," he sang softly, "The White Stag goes running and who follows him? O run through the shadows that lie 'neath the moon! Who follows the White Stag will not come back soon."
She turned over, catching his hands and holding them against her breasts. "That's such a sad song," she said.
"What was I singing?" He replayed it and smiled a bit sadly at her. "Sorry, dearheart."
"Don't be," she said. She raised one of her hands to his face for a moment, then pulled his head down to hers.
He took his weight on one arm and leaned into the kiss, making it long and slow and very, very thorough. She forgot her brother, her friend, her family... everything but this man and this moment. And after, when he cradled her in his arms against his heart, pulling the blankets around them, she slept.
Bojay sat in the small chapel, having lit every candle there. Every yahren it got worse. One had to trust the gods knew what they were doing, but... How could anyone have put that slut Starbuck in a position of authority over children? How could he be made a teacher of the new generation? Didn't anybody realize that if that generation became as wicked as this one, it would only mean another forty yahrens' wandering in this starry wilderness?
Bad enough that they had let the whore's daughter become a cadet.
But that the Serpent, the Whoremonger, the Worm Incarnate was instructing the youth, seducing them with honeyed lies, luring them away from the true path, the road to righteousness? How could that be permitted to continue?
Was it not clear to everyone what he was? Was it not clear what he'd done to Apollo? Look at him—sixteen yahrens married and no child. No child of the Blood. Just that boy... half-Libran and unworthy to follow even this corrupted House.
Though at least born in wedlock, of known lineage. His mother had been Caprican, and his father at least a well-born Libran... and he was a dutiful son to his step-father. But not of the Blood. Could they not see that he had been displaced by the twin sons Adama's daughter had borne her Caprican lord? True Princes of the Blood, heirs of the glory that was Caprica. They must be protected against the corruption that festered in their House, their uncle and his unnatural ways...
Something had to be done. This was obvious.
Bojay prayed for guidance. Every day.
Soon, he knew, soon he would be told what to do.
"Oh, my gods," said Jolly. "Look at that... does that take you back or what, Boomer?"
Boomer looked. A group of brand-new third year cadets were taking advantage of their newly granted privilege to use the O Club (twice a secton, set hours). They all looked impossibly young. Maybe he'd been that young once, but he doubted it... still he thought he knew what Jolly was talking about. Or who, rather. Because Cadet Zephyr was at the front of the group, scanning the room for a table.
Boomer narrowed his eyes at her. There was something, he couldn't quite put his finger on it, something familiar about her stance. He knew Apollo and Jolly and most people found echoes of Starbuck in her, but he never had. Not physically, anyway. She acted like him, yes, but she didn't look like him. It was something else...
It was the hair throwing them off, he thought. That thick mane of dark red hair spilling across the shoulders of her new jacket with the shiny cadet-captain's rank insignia was so very much unlike her father's that you worked harder to see him in the rest of her. But Boomer remembered Starbuck at that age, and Zephyr wasn't like him. At all.
He supposed she was like her mother, whom he'd never seen. Nobody had but Sheba. Well, and Salik, but he was no help. Neither was Sheba, for that matter. She hadn't cared. When pressed, she said, "She wasn't very tall. And she had dark hair. And I thought she looked old but I suppose she really just looked sick..." Sheba couldn't even remember what color eyes the woman had had. "I thought they were blue but they must have been brown. I wasn't really paying any attention to her. She asked for Starbuck, after all. Not me."
Not Apollo, you mean, Boomer had always thought. But it was odd all the same. Because Zephyr was tall, as tall as Starbuck. And if she looked like her mother then the woman hadn't been what Boomer had privately thought of as Starbuck's type.
Most people would have laughed at the notion of Starbuck having a type... he could hear Sheba now, for instance: "What would that be? Breathing?" But if you were willing to be a little liberal with the meaning of 'type', Boomer thought one had existed right enough. He'd be willing to bet that if you'd kept track over the yahrens you'd find that Starbuck leaned towards long hair, blondes, and blue eyes. Certainly if you were talking with him and suddenly lost a chunk of his attention, it was odds-on that she was blonde... But that was a preference, and easily discarded. Boomer had seen him with women as dark as Boomer himself, with close-cropped caps of hair, and with eyes as dark as night. Starbuck's type was fairly well-defined and nothing to do with coloring or hairstyles. His type was shorter than him and, well, willowy. Graceful. Delicate. Feminine. Funny, given what he liked in men, but then again Boomer didn't get that whole 'liking in men' thing in the first place. Physically, Cassie had been Starbuck's perfect woman. Probably, Boomer figured, why he'd tried so hard to make it work out with her, even though they weren't compatible. They both needed someone to steady them, someone plain and down-to-ground to hold them in orbit, someone they could dazzle but not fool... Like him. Like Apollo. Not like themselves.
But if Zephyr looked anything like her mother, Boomer was very surprised she'd kept Starbuck's eye. Let alone got money out of him. There wasn't the slightest bit of willow about her. Graceful, yes, but it was a powerful, athletic grace. She strode instead of tripping. She lounged instead of draping. She was rangy and strong and striking, and not a bit delicate. But she was naggingly familiar... and right now at this moment more so than she'd ever been before. Something about her eyes, about the air of controlled excitement, and the way she was standing...
And then she moved, grinning at her companions and tossing a line off over her shoulder as she headed purposefully toward a corner table and it was gone. That attitude was purest Starbuck, especially when she dropped carelessly into a chair, leaned back and signaled a servitor, and then surveyed the room like she was waiting to be entertained.
Who knew? Boomer thought. Maybe Starbuck had lost a bet. Or been drunk. Or even had gotten a freebie...
They were sitting close enough to hear the orders: grog all around except Zephyr, who ordered ade instead. Her friends immediately started razzing her, but she just leaned back with that smug Starbuck expression and reminded them that she was flying the next day.
"Now, her dad wouldn't have come here if he couldn't drink," said Jolly.
"Sure he would have," said Boomer. "If we'd been allowed into a bar with real Warriors when we were cadets we'd have been there every micron allowable. And you know it. And flying the next day—he'd have made sure everybody knew he was the first in his class to get the controls."
"I suppose you're right," he admitted. "But, please—'real' Warriors?"
"You know we are," Boomer said. "We're their role models. They're our future. It's all incredibly depressing, isn't it?"
"So depressing," said Giles, joining them, "Bojay can't stand to be in the same room with them. Which I think is a good argument for letting them in every night."
The other two turned to watch Red Squadron's commander stalk out of the Club, disapproval in every line of his body.
"So what's got up his butt tonight?" ask Boomer. As if I don't know her name already.
"Who knows?" said Giles. "Damn if I don't wish the gods would tell him to go start a mission somewhere. I purely hate getting three-centare sermons every time we go on patrol."
"File a complaint," said Jolly. "You don't have to listen to that."
"Yeah. Complain my squadron leader is too religious? That'll go over well. Anyway, we only have to listen every eleventh time... We take turns listening to him and the rest of us go on the reserve freq. Whoever's listening has to tell us if he says something we need to hear."
"I didn't hear that," said Boomer. As Wing-Second, he didn't want to know Red Squadron was not on the ops freq; as Boomer, he wondered why somebody hadn't accidentally fried Bojay yahrens ago...
Jolly hadn't been paying attention. "Now tell me that doesn't take you back, Boom-Boom," he said.
Boomer looked; Zephyr was shuffling a pyramid deck, and two of Red Squadron's other pilots had joined the cadets' table. He grinned, remembering Starbuck telling him, in an unguarded moment, "I never really thought about it before, but women have little hands. Tall as Zeff's getting, she still has a little trouble palming a deck."
Boomer had asked if that meant she'd be safer to play cards with.
Starbuck had looked wounded. "Safer? Just what do you mean by that?"
Boomer had just laughed. Now he shook his head and said, "Gods preserve us all. Two of them."
Farrell still looked at the flight rosters out of habit. Maybe out of pique. After all, that had been his job for a long time, and just because somebody up the chain of command thought it was important to keep Starbuck happy... Farrell knew the combat veteran was a better pilot than he was—hell, he was the best pilot the Fleet had had, pre-Cimtar—he just didn't think that mattered. Or rather, he thought that didn't make him a better teacher. Farrell thought the gifted ones were bad teachers, because they hadn't had to learn it themselves, and they couldn't explain it. Not well. Not usually.
And he'd been keeping an eye on Starbuck since they gave him the position of flight instructor at the beginning of the semester. Farrell wasn't stupid: he could see the writing on the wall. First Starbuck got the tactics course, now flight... what was next? Military Theory and History? And Farrell's out the door with a nice desk-chrono with a well-worded gold plaque on its base?
Not this tactician. So he still checked up on everything Starbuck did as flight instructor. And it finally seemed to be paying off. If he could only figure out what this meant.
The first four students were going out for actual hands-on outside-in-real-space training. They should have been the four with the best scores in the simulators, which would be, in top-down order of their skills, Cadets Zephyr (who'd inherited her old man's hands as well as his attitude, it seemed), Clarsarc (now there was a nice boy), Rounder (a uncertain quantity, not the hottest jet in the array but a good pilot), and Keili (a snip of a girl who needed a boyfriend, but also a good pilot). However, there'd been a change made in the roster: instead of Rounder, Cadet Scotti was going instead. And Scotti was, in the first place, not a good pilot. Oh, she wasn't a bad one, but there were several others as good if not better than her. And in the second place, she was the reason Keili needed a boyfriend.
Farrell pondered that for a few centons. He didn't have many classes with the third-yahren cadets any more—Starbuck had most of his—but he did have Senior Theory. And he did have eyes, and he'd seen that Cadets Clarsarc and Zephyr spent time together. He wasn't sure he believed that a man would connive at getting cadets some what he'd call quality time in a shuttle if one of them was his daughter, but then again, that man was Starbuck... Of course, it could have been Scotti who'd done it: she wasn't much of a pilot but he'd seen her comp scores; she could have hacked in and changed the roster easily enough.
He reached for his keyboard to change it back, and then paused. It would be more salutary for them all if he left it like it was and they turned around to watch him coming on board instead of Captain Popularity... Yes, indeed. One good look at Scotti and he'd know if she'd done it. If she had, it was an internal Academy problem. If she hadn't, well, he could challenge Starbuck about it afterwards.
And he could always say he just felt the captain shouldn't be on his daughter's first flight, for several reasons. If he needed a fall-back position.
He pulled up the roster and changed his and Starbuck's duty assignments for the day and fired off a memo to Starbuck. Then he headed for the shuttle bay to run a pre-flight and watch the cadets arrive.
And head off Starbuck in case the man didn't check his inbox.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Starbuck was supposed to take the cadets out on the first flights. But at the last minute, somebody, Tigh or Adama or Apollo or somebody, decided he shouldn't take Zeff on hers. It had annoyed him, to be honest. There would be three other cadets in that shuttle, did they think he had all of them eating out of his hand so much they'd let him cheat for her? Wouldn't that be nice? Or did they think she'd do something crazy to impress him? That was less annoying, but not by much.
He knew it wasn't because they thought he wanted her to get marks she hadn't earned in flight, for lords' sake. Flying mattered; it wasn't history or something like that. She wouldn't get herself killed because she forgot the date of something... He was complaining all the way to the top about this. If he was the Flight Instructor, then by all the gods he was the Flight Instructor. If not, well, he had enough to blackmail Apollo into sending somebody else here.
He was in a pretty bad mood. He looked at his students—he was taking Farrell's history class while that man, who probably hadn't flown anything but a shuttle in a decade—took the cadets out. It wasn't fair to the students, and he decided, on the spur of the moment, to let them go. He'd assign the reading and send them to do it somewhere else. Like he could have answered questions they had, anyway...
They all took off before he had a chance to change his mind and he had a couple of centares to kill. So he wandered down to the childcare center to look in on Athena's boys.
They recognized him of course—they were very nearly as intelligent as Zeff had been—and came running to greet him. Well, as much as kids just over two yahrens old could come running, anyway. Kairos wanted to be picked up, he always did, so Starbuck obliged him, while Lykos grabbed his knee and demanded to be read to. Starbuck ruffled their brown hair, one after the other, and—Lykos standing on his foot and giggling—made his way to the book nook, lurching exaggeratedly. He sat down on the floor—that was harder than it used to be, never mind getting up—and Kairos snuggled in his lap. He was a loving little boy, happiest when being held. Lykos was rambunctious. They both looked like their father, but Starbuck had a hard time picturing Omega as a rambunctious child. He was affectionate enough with 'Theni, after a slowish start, but still Starbuck figured the kids had more their mother's personality. Although Lykos reminded him even more of Zac.
He'd said that to 'Theni, just a couple of sectons ago. She'd agreed with him. She could still get all teary on Zac's birthday, but she'd laughed, and made him and Omega laugh too, recounting the things Zac had done as a little boy that she hoped Lykos would never think of doing. It had been a bit odd, because there were flashes of Zeff in those stories. It really startled him anymore to think of her as Zac's. He'd said a silent prayer to Zac that evening, hoping he didn't mind that Starbuck forgot so often. He was pretty sure Zac didn't; Zeff had needed a father not a keeper, and anyway, it was Zac's fault for siring such a totally irresistible girl...
Now Lykos dragged up a big picture book about farm animals. Gods, Starbuck hoped he wasn't going to have to explain animals to these kids. Let alone farms. Too bad Athena had told Apollo, with a perfectly straight face that had fooled no one, that she'd have loved to take Muffet for the boys but unfortunately Omega was too old-fashioned to believe in drones or robots of any kind... Handy to have an excuse like that, Starbuck had thought. He'd been forced to say he wouldn't have that thing in his quarters to win a bet. It had helped that when the offer was made, Djan was still Boxey, and only ten... However, it soon became apparent that neither Lykos nor Kairos were really interested in the book, only in the attention.
And Starbuck didn't mind giving them that. Athena, as anyone who'd seen her with Boxey or Zeffie could have predicted, was a wonderful mother. And this was Omega's second set of kids, and he was a terrific father. And they had a doting uncle and cousin and a grandfather who had apparently been only practicing his spoiling ways on the children he'd had access to before the twins. Nonetheless, something Starbuck had heard Boomer tell Apollo, yahrens ago in the academy, something he wasn't supposed to have overheard, had stuck in his mind, surfacing when he held Zeff for the first time: you can hurt a child as much by what you don't do as what you do do: don't hold him, don't say you love him, don't make him feel wanted...
No chance these two wouldn't feel like that, of course, but Starbuck wasn't holding back because of that.
When Athena came into the center, he realized immediately that something was wrong. His heart lurched... Let it be Omega, he thought and was immediately guilt-stricken. But...Gods, please, not Zeffie. Not Apollo. And, please, not Djan. That would kill Apollo... Not Adama, either. Other names didn't occur to him; Athena wouldn't have looked like that for anyone else. He put Kairos on the floor and stood up.
"Starbuck, thank the Lords of Kobol," she said. "You've got to come to the Life Center."
Oh, gods, he thought, watching Athena fend off her boys. "'Theni—what's wrong?"
She set off for the nearest turbolift, matching her stride to his as he, barely realizing it, began to hurry. "Starbuck," she said, "it's not critical, but Zeff—"
"What happened?" he demanded.
"We're not sure. Something went wrong with the shuttle engines, one blew up somehow, the control panel blew... Farrell was killed. One of the other cadets was hurt, too—"
"Too?" he said sharply, hardly waiting for the lift doors to open before jumping inside. "What happened to Zeffie?"
"Starbuck, she's okay," she reassured him. "Or she will be, anyway. Some burns. And she lost a lot of blood, her leg was cut. They're bringing her up from the shuttle bay now."
"How could that happen? Didn't somebody run a maintenance check on the shuttle?"
"I don't know," she said. "Farrell would have, I suppose. The other two cadets may be able to tell us."
The lift stopped and Starbuck was out as soon as there was enough clearance. A medtech tried to get in his way; Starbuck went through him like he wasn't even there and pushed open the door. Cassie looked up in annoyance, which modulated to concern when she recognized him.
"Zeffie?" He spoke first.
"Daddy?" Her voice was thin, thready with pain.
He dropped to his heels beside the table, putting a hand on her head. He couldn't touch her hands; one was wrapped and Cassie was working on the other; it was red and raw looking. "I'm here, sweetheart," he said. "You take it easy, now, let Cassie fix you up."
An IV was replacing blood; her leg was bandaged from knee almost to hip, and a medtech was preparing a suture kit—he recognized those from his own occasional mishap. Cassie said, not ungently, "Stay out of our way, Starbuck, and you can stay. She'll be asleep soon, though."
"I'm not going anywhere," he reassured her.
"Flight Officer Farrell?" she asked.
"No, Zeffie. He didn't make it." Honesty first.
Starbuck looked at Cassie. She said, "He's going to be fine, Zeffie. He's in better shape than you, as far as that goes. You did very well. Now just relax."
"Daddy?" She looked at him, her brown eyes asking if that was true.
He didn't know what had happened, but it didn't matter. It was true. It couldn't be otherwise. "That's right, Zeffie," he said. "You did good. And you're going to be fine. Just relax now."
He stayed like that until the sedatives finally kicked in. Then he stood up, determined to get some answers. He started with Cassie, who responded to his look before he could get any words out.
"She'll be fine, Starbuck. Her hands are burnt, but not badly. They'll regenerate fine. And she might have a scar on her thigh, but that's all. A secton out of school, no more... you can spoil her all you want."
"What the frack happened?"
"Now that I don't know," said Cassie. "Ask someone else. We're just the doctors, all we do is patch them up. As you know."
"Thanks," he said, only mildly repentant. "When will she wake up?"
"In about five centares," she said. "Hands hurt; we want to make sure she's out."
"Thanks," he said again. "I'll be back."
"How is she?" Apollo was standing in the waiting area with Athena. He took hold of Starbuck's shoulder supportively.
"What the frack happened?" Starbuck demanded.
"She's going to be all right?" Athena asked.
"Yes, she will be," Starbuck answered. "What happened?"
Apollo squeezed his shoulder and then said, "We're not sure yet. I've got mechs going over the shuttle... one of the engines and the control panel blew. Farrell was apparently killed outright; he was piloting. Zeff was in the co-pilot's position. The other injured cadet was apparently standing between them, watching Farrell..." His green eyes were very dark, and he reached out and grabbed Starbuck's shoulder again. "Starbuck, I swear to you we'll find out what happened."
Athena hugged him. "Starbuck," she said, "weren't you supposed to be taking them? I thought we'd lost you..."
Frack, Apollo had, too, Starbuck realized suddenly. Keep it light. Don't push... "So, I guess this means I have to bitch to Tigh instead of you," he said to Apollo, adding to Athena, "I got pulled at the last minute."
"Thank the gods," Apollo said.
"What? You don't think I'd have spotted it?"
"Farrell didn't. And he was a careful man, if not half the pilot you are," Apollo said seriously. "Starbuck," he added, "you should know, the other cadets... I think they sort of panicked. Zeff brought the shuttle in."
"With her hands like that?" Starbuck winced. Then he smiled. "That's my girl."
If Starbuck had been startled (which he had been) to discover that Athena wore her death-in-the-family face for him, he was more startled to discover how many of the cadets (maybe he could start thinking of them as "his cadets" without feeling guilty about it) had been as worried about him as they had about Zeffie, Clarsarc, and the other two... who'd come to see him that afternoon as soon as they could track him down, mostly to apologize for not knowing "what to do, Captain. I've never flown for real—"
"Me, either, and I know the simulator is good, but—"
"I'm so sorry about Zephyr's hands, one of us should have been flying—"
"We didn't both need to look after Clarsarc—"
"I guess we screwed up, huh?"
Starbuck waited a minute to make sure they'd actually run down, then he said, "There's a reason you're cadets. You have to learn how to react in emergencies. You did fine. You didn't panic destructively, you kept Clarsarc from bleeding to death, and you kept out of Zeff's way while she worked. By the time you graduate, you'll be able to work while you're terrified. Don't expect to get there early."
"Look," he put a hand on each one's shoulder. "Some people are born with symphonies in their heads, or the ability to bank a shot off four walls into the goal, or to spin stories that will keep a roomful of drunks hanging on the next word. Most aren't. But they can learn to write music, play Triad, write fiction. Or play keyboards or pyramid or paint or whatever. Like fly. Everybody has their strengths, and their weaknesses. Nobody's good at everything. Don't compare yourself to genius... catching lightning in a bottle is a helluva ride but most of the time it's not necessary. You'll do just fine if you work your butts off and never quit. Some ways, you'll do better, because you'll be used to thinking about how you're gonna get it done. You won't be surprised when you're in over your heads 'cause you'll sort of be used to it. And, how it counts, three metrons of water is no different from three metrics... staying on top is what counts. Do you understand what I mean?"
"I think so, sir," Keili said. "Thanks."
"Yes, sir," Scotti added. "I hope Zeff's gonna be back soon."
"She will be," he said. "A secton off... why don't you two bring her class assignments around?"
Scotti nodded eagerly. "Yes, sir; we can do that. Thanks, sir."
But the other cadets had, like the Bridge crew and the ready squadron pilots, heard that the cadet training shuttle had been damaged, come in with the flight instructor dead and two cadets injured... and they'd all thought it was him. Except Farrell's history class, one of whom—his girlfriend worked as a medical tech—had told Athena, who'd come in the Life Center to be with Zeff, that "no, ma'am, Captain Starbuck didn't take that flight. He was just in class with us, I saw him heading down towards the instructional center. The little kids, ma'am?"
Those others were the ones who kept stopping him in the corridors, or dropping in on his classes over the next couple of days, telling him how glad they were he was all right, trying to not actually say that they'd swap Farrell for him any day of the secton and twice on firstday... The more he'd been scheduled to teach, the more he'd kind of resented it, even though he'd found himself enjoying it. But apparently he was popular... maybe that meant he was good at it.
But by all seven hells, he was taking the flight training or he'd know why.
And he meant to be more successful at that than they were, so far at least, at figuring out exactly what had happened to the training shuttle...
Oh, sure, what had happened was easy enough: somebody had stuck a solenite packet into the starboard engine and rigged it to the pilot's console. First time he hit something, probably for a banking maneuver, boom. Which sent some chills down Starbuck's spine, because assuming he'd missed it during preflight, he'd have been banking a lot closer to the Galactica than Farrell had. They'd probably have slammed right into her side, taking out the whole crew. Farrell's more conservative flying had meant the shuttle's initial out-of-control spinning had been far enough away from the rest of the fleet that they hadn't hit anything, and given Zeffie time to regain control of the crippled vessel. Thank the gods she'd pestered him for sim time as a teenager. Thank the gods for those Adaman reflexes Zac had given her, that hand-eye coordination they all had. Thank the gods she was level-headed in crisis...
It was almost enough to send a man to chapel. Of course, if they'd found the solenite in time, that would have been better. Farrell was a good man who didn't deserve to die. Zeff and Clarsarc didn't deserve to be injured, and Keili and Scotti didn't deserve to be scared out of their wits, or have their confidence in themselves shaken. And none of the kids deserved to die, either, as they oh-so-easily might have.
Tigh was investigating personally. But whoever had done it had worn gloves, leaving no fingerprints or DNA traces behind. Clearly he'd had to know more than a bit about shuttles, but that didn't eliminate many on a warship. And there was no hint of a motive. No bragging or satisfied notes anywhere, no threats uncovered. Farrell's wife was devastated, not pleased. There wasn't anything more than usual cadet-stuff with the four who'd been at risk—they were good kids, not trouble-makers. At least, not the kind of trouble this was a reasonable reaction to. Keili and Scotti were lovers, which might irritate some, though whoever had put together the class roster hadn't apparently been bothered by it. Clarsarc was the cadet-colonel, a straight-five student with no apparent sense of humor, but surely nobody blew you up because you couldn't take a joke... And Zeff was highly popular with her peers, most of them anyway, and the ones who didn't much care for her did like Clarsarc...
Tigh was baffled. So was Security, but that hardly surprised Starbuck. He nosed around the bay himself, but none of the mechanics had noticed anyone out of place. It wouldn't have taken long, Jenny told Starbuck, in a white fury, for someone who knew what he was doing to rig the shuttle, and most of the time he'd be inside, out of sight... "One thing is for damned sure," she finished, putting her hand on his arm briefly, "two of my people are checking every shuttle with a cadet on it from now till the Endtimes. Or you, for that matter, sir."
Which was good, as well as heart-warming, but it wasn't getting them any nearer the answers.
Tigh couldn't even find out who'd pulled Starbuck from the flight at the last minute. Farrell had shown up to take the flight, with a computer-logged order, but when Omega tried to trace it, he ran into nothing. Not just skips and anonymity, nothing. It didn't seem to have come from anywhere. He'd put his best crackers on it, but they didn't have any better luck than he had. Either this was some bizarre suicide and Farrell had written the orders himself—which made no sense no matter how you looked at it—or "Divine intervention," Tigh suggested half-seriously.
Starbuck figured the gods could have found a better way to kill Farrell if that's what they wanted to do.
After only two days Zeff was going crazy. "Cassie said you stay in bed," Starbuck said. "You stay in bed. I find you out again I'm sending you to the Life Center and they'll fracking well strap you down."
"Dad," she said. "I'm fine."
"You damned near died on me," he said. "You're staying in bed."
She rolled martyred brown eyes at him. But that night he heard her wake up—he'd been waiting for it—and when he went to her, she clung to him and cried. For Farrell. For Clarsarc. For him. For what almost happened and what could have happened. And he held her and cried, too.
Boomer was waiting in Apollo's office the morning after the incident.
"What are you doing here?" Apollo asked. "You just pulled a ten-centare patrol. You ought to be home asleep."
Boomer shook his head. "I missed all the excitement yesterday, but I made up for it when Cassie got home. She hasn't told anybody, but..."
"Why do I not feel like I want to hear this?" Apollo asked rhetorically. "Spill it."
"Starbuck's not Zephyr's father," Boomer said with his customary bluntness.
"What?" Apollo stared at him. "What the frack do you mean?"
Boomer shrugged. "Frankly, I don't think he needs to be told. Or her, for that matter. Cassie thinks he does... says he has a right to know. I can't see where it'll do anybody any good."
"So Cassie thinks this?"
"Well, I mean," Boomer said, "she's right. He's not. I doubt, from what I've heard, that he was paying any attention yesterday and I don't know if Zeff told him, but it's pretty obvious."
"Boomer, it's not obvious to me."
"Oh. Sorry. When she was in the Life Center, Cassie found out her blood type. She's a 3."
That didn't mean anything to Apollo, obvious or obscure. He must have looked blank, because Boomer shook his head again.
"Apollo, Starbuck's a 0. You know that."
Yes. He had known that. He was a 1. Boomer was a 2. And Starbuck was a 0. He'd given blood to both of them, and they couldn't return the favor... But you needed a 1 and a 2 to make a 3... "Gods," he said. Then, "Wait a centon, don't they get their blood typed in school any more?"
"Cassie said there was a notation on her records that she'd been incorrectly typed as a 1, and it was changed when she started training. She may not have felt there was any reason to mention it to him, or he'd have known a couple of years ago. Maybe he did... can't say it would make any difference to me if I found out that Callie or Corrie or Bren wasn't mine." He paused. "I mean, in circumstances like Starbuck's."
Apollo chuckled. "Yeah, Starbuck never thought Zeff's mother was faithful... Why does Cassie think he should know? What's it going to accomplish? He won't love her any less."
Boomer shrugged. "She thinks the woman roped him into something he'd never have done on his own. What she thinks he's going to do after eighteen yahrens, I don't think she knows either. She just thinks he has the right."
Apollo tried to assimilate it. "Boom-Boom," he said after a centon. "I think it would rip him up."
"It would to lose her," Boomer said. "But she's an adult now. That's not going to happen. Besides, it's not like Sire Bigcubits is standing there saying she's his."
"I don't know..."
"Me, either," Boomer admitted. "But that's why I told you. Cassie promised not to say anything. The problem is, it won't be hard for anybody else to figure it out." He yawned. "I think I'm going after that sleep now. Is Zeff going home this afternoon?"
"Home?" Apollo grinned. "Yeah, she is."
"I'll stop by and see her when I'm awake."
Apollo worried it over in his mind for centares. Once he'd have been sure he had all the answers when it concerned Starbuck. But that one conversation, so many yahrens ago, had knocked him so off-balance he still wasn't sure where he stood or if the ground was going to be steady under his feet... He kept seeing things in Starbuck's eyes that made him shy.
Shy. Not an emotion he was familiar with.
So now he thought maybe he'd better talk to his sister about this.
Athena came in from the twins' room and sat on the sofa next to Apollo. "Of course, I don't know," she said, "but I always felt there was something just a little bit off about the whole thing. Not like you mean, though."
Apollo looked at her puzzledly. "What, then?"
"Well, you and Cassie, both of you, checked that woman's background out, right? I remember Cassie calling her a 'twenty-cubit whore' when she let Starbuck have it that day..."
"And, doesn't that seem odd to you? It always did to me." She shook her head at his obtuseness. "I couldn't see Starbuck paying somebody twenty cubits to sleep with him. I mean, really, I can barely see him paying anybody anything. Especially not back then, not when he was young and gorgeous and people practically queued up for him."
"Athena," Apollo tried to cut her off. He hadn't forgotten her quiet husband was in the room, even if she had.
She went right on. "I mean, okay, I can see him paying a whole hell of a lot more than that, say, four or five hundred, if he was at the tail-end of a furlon and flush and intoxicated with gambling success and topped off with alcohol and somebody offered him something really, really exotic, like, I don't know, identical triplets. With special toys or something," she made a vague gesture with her hands. "I could see that. But just plain sex? Which is all you get for twenty cubits? No. Not Starbuck. The whole idea that he couldn't get laid in Caprica City is just, well, ludicrous."
Apollo couldn't think what to answer. Put like that, it was, well, irrefutable.
Another thing occurred to his sister. "It's not the money, either; he never grudged money. But he wouldn't have just bought it. Gods know, it was never a commercial transaction with him. It was a game, it was," she paused, looking upward as she remembered, a small smile quirking her lips, "exciting and fun and, well, it was a game. He spent money as part of it, not... not it itself. I know he spent more than twenty lots of times when we were dating, and sometimes we didn't even end up in bed. But lots of times he didn't spend so much as a decicubit and we did. There were even times, more than once, when I grabbed him by his shirtfront and hauled him off to the nearest horizontal surface before he could say 'hi', let alone bring up money. Starbuck and a twenty-cubit hooker? It just doesn't scan."
Apollo really hadn't wanted that image in his head, his sister and Starbuck. Starbuck had always considerately not talked about her, at least not where Apollo might hear it... leave it to 'Theni. Worse, though, in a way—he'd snuck a glance at Omega while she was talking, and the man had looked more amused, even proud, at her forwardness than anything else, and now Apollo had the image of his sister grabbing him... He shook his head to clear it.
Athena misunderstood. "Did you ever hear him talk about hookers?"
"No, no, you're probably right. But, you mean you think he knew all along?"
"Well, sure. Unless Dr. Salik was in on it with the woman," she said reasonably. "After all, who in the Fleet would think of genetic testing for kinship faster than Starbuck? That whole thing with that man claiming to be his father."
"Why, by the Lords of Kobol, would he take some hooker's baby?"
Omega spoke for the first time. "Perhaps he knew her? From the Orphanage, I mean... I imagine there are not a lot of career choices for those who didn't get inducted."
"Yes," said Athena. "Or he knew the baby's father. From the service... some dead pilot he liked. How many died in the Destruction, Apollo? With no family saved? Forty? Fifty? That he knew, I mean."
"Lots," Apollo said. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"If I was right," she said simply, "Starbuck felt an obligation. Who was I to stop him acting like a grown-up for once? And anyway, she's been the best thing that ever happened to him. And he was certainly the best thing that could have happened to her."
"However," Omega said, and Apollo was amused to see how attentively Athena turned to him. "If he doesn't know, it would be a kindness to warn him. If it's as simple as blood type, it could hit him in the face at any moment."
"That's true," Apollo said, and Athena nodded. "I'll tell him," he said.
"Well," Athena said, "don't do it till she's back in school. Give him a chance to get over nearly losing her. And vice versa, for that matter."
Apollo nodded. He'd probably never forget hearing that cadet's voice saying, "The flight instructor, he's dead!" It had shaken him...
So he waited a few days. Then he stopped by Starbuck's academy office, waiting patiently while three cadets, all of whom tried to let him go first, went in to talk. One of them stayed a good half-centare and came out looking happier than he had when he went in.
"Hi," Starbuck said when he went in. "Do you know how glad I am you're not a cadet with problems?"
"I don't know; you seem to be awfully good at it."
"Who'd have guessed?" Starbuck grinned slightly. "Imagine Colonel Survan's face."
"So, what's up?" Starbuck leaned back in his chair.
Apollo suddenly wished he'd let Athena do this. You still could, a little voice said. He shook it off. "I've got something to tell you. I don't know, maybe you already know it. And it probably doesn't matter... anyway, it's awkward."
"I can see that," Starbuck said, a trifle warily. "You find out something about that explosion? Like who did it? And you're not going to let me kill him?"
"No," Apollo said. "If I knew who did it, he'd be in Security's tender clutches already."
"Starbuck... when Zeff's mother told you you were her father, did you actually check on that?"
"Oh." Starbuck relaxed. "To tell the truth, Apollo, I didn't have to check on it. I probably broke at least a couple of laws, so I'll deny it, but Aline never tried to make me think Zeffie was mine. It wouldn't have worked if she had; I'd never met her before."
"Never?" Apollo could remember everything he'd said. Of course, Starbuck hadn't been denying it... but he still felt pretty low.
"Nope," Starbuck grinned ruefully. "Didn't have much trouble convincing people otherwise. But I wanted her."
Apollo wasn't sure what his face was showing. Starbuck had known from micron one? Hadn't even needed Salik to tell him? What he asked was, "Why did she come to you, then?"
"I knew her father," Starbuck said simply. "I owed him."
"Who was he?"
"That doesn't matter. He was dead. A long time already... at Cimtar. So what was I supposed to do? If I hadn't taken her, she'd have gone to the Orphan Ship. I didn't have any standing to get her—single fighter pilots aren't good risks. Unless I say she's mine. And it wasn't like almost anybody had any trouble believing it."
"No. I counted on that."
"You let everybody think—"
"It wasn't important, Apollo. What was important was Zeffie, keeping her safe. Giving her a home. You know what I mean—you had Djan."
Apollo couldn't think of anything to say. He could either sound like he thought Starbuck was insane or noble, and neither of those was right. Besides, it was entirely obvious that Starbuck and Zeffie had been happy together.
"Yeah," he finally said. "You probably did break a handful of laws... so I guess I know why you never said anything. Does Zeffie know?"
"I told her a few years ago," Starbuck said. "After she found out. I mean," he replayed that and grinned slightly, "she found out, when she got her blood typed in school? And it upset her, so I told her I'd known all along."
Apollo thought of something. "Starbuck, is there any chance anybody else knows? I mean, maybe a pissed-off wife or something?"
"The saboteur?" Starbuck said. "No way. Trust me, Apollo."
Starbuck shook his head.
Apollo nodded. "Of course not... you'd have told them back then."
"So, what are you going to do?"
"Do?" Apollo blinked. "Nothing. She's almost an adult. I just didn't want you getting blindsided."
Starbuck smiled at him. "Thanks."
Apollo smiled back. Divine Intervention, Tigh says... Maybe. Whatever it was, thank the gods.
Cassie looked reflectively at the sample she'd taken from Zeffie while she was unconscious the sectare before. She had taken it impulsively, and had not yet done anything with it, but neither had she gotten rid of it. Boomer was so insistent that it didn't matter, but the truth was it did.
It had mattered back then. So he'd turned out to be a good parent; the fact was that the rules existed for reasons, and Starbuck had been a bad risk. Not only because he had been so very likely to be killed, leaving the child orphaned yet again, and this time possibly old enough to notice, but because he had no skills. But somehow, as always, Starbuck's lies were transmuted into virtue. Boomer, Apollo, Athena... they all seemed to think he'd done something wonderful. He was just exactly like the fairy tale character, the one who could fall into a pile of felgarcarb and come up with a diamond.
She had to admit that it didn't matter now. The girl was nineteen. Even if Starbuck had been a bad parent, someone you'd want to take a child away from—and he hadn't been, she admitted that—Zephyr was of age. No one could come between her and Starbuck. Assuming that he was telling the truth now.
That was something she'd never really been able to understand about people—and she had to include herself in there: why did they keep believing him? She'd heard an old song once, a novelty number, with lyrics of "why did you believe me when I said I loved you when you know I've been a liar all my life?" That was Starbuck. And you did believe him, over and over, and when you caught him in a lie he got all wide-eyed and innocent and forgiven... until next time, when it happened all over again. So why were they all so quick to believe him now, when he said Zephyr's father was dead?
Cassie didn't see Starbuck—not the Starbuck he'd been eighteen years ago—doing something for a dead man. Not something like this, taking responsibility for a child. Losing his whole lifestyle. Granted he'd apparently not regretted it, but in her opinion, and maybe she hadn't known him for more than a decade, but she'd been this close to sealing with him, he hadn't been the kind of man to be that altruistic. To feel that kind of obligation. He'd been too hedonistic. Too careless. Too concerned with himself.
There was only one person she could think of that he'd lie for like that. And he wasn't dead.
Well, maybe two. But Zephyr wasn't Boomer's, anybody could see that without going into arguments about whether Boomer would have patronized a whore (which he wouldn't have).
So only one man. And he was still alive. And still stood to lose an enormous amount if it came out. He was such a paragon of righteousness, and always had been... she hadn't known him back then, either, but she'd heard what people said when she came on board. His father would have been horrified—still would be. And he'd lose his wife, which might not be such a bad thing, though Cassie liked Sheba. And it might affect his career... one thing about Starbuck, he had been very nearly on the bottom then, nowhere to go but up in people's opinions as far as his morals had been. Actually taking on his bastard daughter by a whore had been a step to higher ground.
For Apollo, it would have been a disaster. And for him to have ignored it for eighteen yahrens... yes.
A Sub-Colonelcy might just open up.
And if it turned out she was wrong, well, she'd be the first to admit it.
But it was unlikely. Still, no one needed to know what she was doing. She could run her searches on her own time, when no one was around. And she could cover her motive by starting with all the pilots who'd been stationed with Starbuck, which would include Apollo. It would take a while to screen, though she could write her program to eliminate all the incompatible blood types. Since some 40% of the general population was 0... in fact, if she went back and found the woman's records, she might be able to eliminate either the 1s or 2s, which would help...
Bojay understood his error. He had trusted to machines. This needed the personal touch.
This needed to be done so there could be no mistakes. No interference. And no trying to do too much.
Farrell... Bojay didn't know what Farrell had thought was going on. He knew the man had discovered that the roster had been altered slightly to put that pair of perverts on the flight when the one of them didn't have the scores to justify it... He didn't know if Farrell had hoped or feared, had wanted to be part of whatever he thought might be going to happen or rather had wanted to put an end to it. But the result was that only Farrell had died. Farrell, a non-entity. It should have been the Worm and his spawn, and the two he'd led astray. And Clarsarc: the innocent. There had to be an innocent... it was too bad, of course, but he was perfect. Of good Caprican blood, upright and pure... he'd have been happy to die if he'd known he was saving the people with his blood.
But not even the whore's daughter, the spawn of Starbuck, had died. Instead, she was hailed as a hero by these deluded people.
He knew now it would have to be done in person. He would have to actually spill their blood in ritual sacrifice. They would have to be purified. Purged. Made clean and then killed...
Only then would the way be clear to sacrifice Adama's son, who would have to die to set the people on the right course. Adama's grandsons would lead them into the shining planet. Adama of course would not live to see it; like those who had led the people from Kobol, he would be taken beforehand, unworthy to set foot on the new land, though his eyes would behold it. But his son was not worthy even of that... corrupted by the worm, he would have to die.
Bojay knew he would have to be careful in cleansing the worm and his spawn, because he would have to live long enough to kill Apollo. That death could be open; he'd be taken into Heaven to be with Cain after he had performed the final sacrifice if it pleased the gods not to protect him. He, too, though he strove to be a faithful servant, was not worthy of the new planet. But he didn't fear his death, only the untimeliness of it. The purging of the worm and his spawn was not his last task.
And the Serpent protected His own. That was clear after this disaster. That did not excuse his failings, and he had known he had had to atone with much prayer, fasting, and punishment. But the Serpent was more subtle than any other beast, and He did protect Starbuck. The Serpent had slid into Farrell, tempting him to interfere. Bojay was forgiven that now. He knew it.
For now the visions were coming again. He had been entrusted once more with the fate of the whole people.
Soon he would be granted the opportunity to purge the great evil coiled at the heart of the House of Adama. Of the noble Caprican line. Of the Galactica and the True People of Kobol. Soon.
Then with his own hands he would rip away the unwholesome growth and the evil.
He, Bojay, would complete the work of Cain. He would open the way through the wilderness and deliver those who wandered in darkness.
The time was not ripe. It would come. He would know it when it did.
Apollo was at Starbuck's, talking over a grog—Sheba and her squadron were on long-range patrol and Djan was with his squadronmates on the Star, and he was openly cadging a meal. The door opened, and Zeff's voice rang through the front room. "Daddy!" She ran into their quarters like a twelve-yahren-old instead of a senior cadet. "Daddy! I got my scores today! Guess what?"
"What?" He smiled at her enthusiasm. "You passed?"
"Passed?" She exaggerated her reaction. "Passed? Of course I passed! What kind of question is that? Oh," she noticed the other man. "Hi, Uncle Apollo, how're you? I did more than pass, Dad."
"Beat Djan's score on the flight test, did you?"
"Djan's score, pooh," she said. "I beat yours!"
"You never," he said, smiling proudly.
"Did so," she grinned at him. "By .02, but any win's a win, right?"
"You know it's because you're a girl," he said, pretending disparagement. "Girls have marginally better reflexes. If I was a girl—"
"Oh, gods, the loss to the world!" she cried dramatically.
"You mean you?"
"Well, that too," her grin matched his and she hugged him. "First in my class! Dad, I'm so happy I can't stand it! I want to take you to dinner on the Star. Dancing under the stars... you can come too, Uncle Apollo," she added generously, in charity with the whole universe.
"I wouldn't dream of intruding," he said. "But tomorrow you have to celebrate with us, me and 'Theni and Omega, and Father."
"You're on," said Starbuck. "You're sure you'll be all right on your own tonight?"
"I'll go annoy my sister," Apollo said.
Zeff hugged him when he stood up. "Thanks, Uncle Apollo," she said. She let him go and bounced on her toes like the teenager she was. Like someone he almost but not quite was reminded of... probably Djan when he graduated, though normally he wasn't so exuberant. Maybe Starbuck... she acted like him, even though they weren't related. But remembering all the way back to graduation wasn't as easy as it had been once, and anyway, he'd been pretty caught up in his own accomplishments. He grinned at her and left them to their celebration.
"Hey," Starbuck walked into Apollo's office. "Your brother-in-law tells me we're sending a bunch of agro techs to that planet Boomer's boys found yesterday?"
"Why, yes, Starbuck, I do happen to have a few centons free, come on in."
Starbuck ignored that with the ease of yahrens. "Mind if I sit in on the meeting with Tigh?"
Apollo gave up, shaking his head. He stood, picking up a stack of pads. "Nope, I don't mind. Tigh might."
"Tigh loves me," Starbuck said insouciantly.
"Is that what you mean by 'love'? Should have told me twenty yahrens ago."
Apollo must be in a good mood, Starbuck thought. Of course, ever since the shuttle explosion six sectares ago he'd been, well, more like the early yahrens of their friendship. More apt to drop by unannounced, to lean against him, to tease... Starbuck wasn't sure what was going on and he wasn't even completely sure he liked it. It had made him break up with Morag's brother—it wasn't fair to Calum to be looking at him across the table or the bed and wishing he were Apollo—and Calum had been the closest thing he'd had to a real relationship in a very long time, even if he secretly suspected that they'd have burnt out in less than a yahren, having nothing at all in common. But Apollo's sudden reversion to their old, easy relationship had caused Starbuck to break off with the "Tribal Legends" host long before that had happened. Damn, he'd told himself at the time, you are such a complete pushover.
"You coming?" Apollo had teleported to the hallway, that was the only explanation. Starbuck trotted to catch up.
At the meeting he sat and listened while Apollo, Omega, and Tigh hashed out all the details of sending an away team of agro techs to harvest new grains to supplement the fleet's supplies and hybridize their stocks while keeping the main body of the fleet moving. Like a sharkon, Starbuck thought idly. As if if we stop moving, we die. Finally Tigh turned to him. "Is there something you'd like to add, Starbuck?"
He wondered what they'd say if he said that he thought they should stop and colonize this planet, given it was an empty delta-class. But he didn't, having had that argument as many times as he cared to. "Let me take some of the cadets along," he said.
"Cadets?" asked Tigh.
"A pre-graduation field trip," Starbuck elaborated. "It's a nothing planet, right? No trouble anywhere in sight, nobody to bother. They need to learn atmospheric flying, at least some of them. For real, not in the sims. We take the agrotechs down, they play with their grasses and whatever, and I teach the kids how to fly in air."
"Well, I don't see why not," Apollo said, looking at Tigh. "There's certainly no sign of any advanced civilization down there."
"I have no objections," the colonel agreed. "As long as the students are up to it. Final year only, I'd say."
"Sure," Starbuck nodded.
"Who did you want to take?" Tigh asked.
"Top four pilots," Starbuck said. "A reward for their hard work."
"More work," Apollo grinned.
"They would be—?" Tigh asked.
"Cadets Clarsarc, Keili, Rounder, and Zephyr."
The other men grinned at him. "Just make sure they all get flying time," Apollo said.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Boomer watched Starbuck herd his cadets onto the shuttle. Like a good ovine dagget, something Boomer had seen in his childhood, Starbuck knew where each of his charges was at any given time and was able to head them off when (not if) they strayed—since cadets were marginally more intelligent than ovines, he didn't have to run over and bite them, either, just give them looks-and-promises. As befitted his rank, the cadet-colonel, Clarsarc, wasn't giving any trouble, in fact he was already aboard the shuttle. The other three were too excited—maybe Starbuck was right, Boomer thought idly. Maybe they should take time off every now and then from their inexorable progress after Earth. He wouldn't go as far as Starbuck occasionally did and say, stop; but a break now and again, especially so the younger generations wouldn't be so kafuffled by planets that being on Earth would, well, send them skittering around like this. They were, after all, still teenagers, still easily excited—
His train of thought skidded to an abrupt halt as he stared at Zephyr, gesturing excitedly as she bounced on her toes while talking to one of the cadets who were staying behind. Damn, he thought. Why didn't I see that before? He took a deep breath and looked again. Nope. There was no doubt in his mind. Freed of the misconception that she was reminding him of a woman, he could see who she really was reminding him of: Zac. Zephyr looked like Zac. She had Zac's nose, and cheekbones, and his eyes... those big, expressive brown eyes. His rangy height and his air of suppressed excitement—though for her suppressing it was the unusual mode of expression. Her smile wasn't his, but neither was her hair: obviously she wasn't like Omega's kids, carbon copies of their father; her mother had kicked in at least something...
Zac's kid. He shook his head. Oh, boy... oh, Bucko, you've really been and gone and done it this time, haven't you? Although, looking at it dispassionately, which Boomer could do both by inclination and distance from the problem, he wasn't sure that Starbuck had had any good options. The Commander was hell on morals; more accurately, on lack of them. He'd disapproved of Starbuck's lifestyle ever since Apollo had dragged the other boy on breaks at the academy. But, unlike say, the Sagittans, who approved of prostitutes because they kept 'nice' women safe, Adama actually had them and their customers at the bottom of his list. Or would that be the top? Whichever, he'd been very disappointed in Starbuck nineteen yahrens ago. And to find out that Zac had...
Boomer shook his head. That wouldn't have been pretty at all. Zac was Adama's baby, his precious little boy. No matter that he'd been commissioned by the time he died, he was always going to be Adama's baby, even if he hadn't... though Boomer found himself wondering what, if Zac had survived Cimtar, would have happened with Zephyr and her mother. He winced as his imagination delivered up that scene.
And Apollo might have been even harder, in some ways. Because Apollo was, even then, getting through his guilt by making Zac perfect. And neither of them had ever quite admitted that the boy had become a man.
Boomer watched as the shuttle doors were closed. For that matter, who knew what the mother thought? Why had she come to Starbuck when, if she knew who he was, she had to know that Zac had a father, a brother, even a sister still alive? If she was concerned about getting a home for her daughter, why not turn to the child's blood kin? She must have had her reasons... and Starbuck had honored them.
If he'd known them... Boomer turned that thought over in his mind for a while. Sure, Starbuck had said, to Apollo, and to him for that matter, "I knew her father. I owed him." And if he'd meant Zac, then, yes, Starbuck had carried guilt over Zac's death for a long time, too. Double guilt—letting Zac take his place, letting Apollo have the chance to make the call. "Apollo had to leave him," he'd said to Boomer once, twenty yahrens ago and very drunk, "but it was my fault he was out there. If I hadn't played along with him, if I'd done what I should have, Apollo wouldn't have had any of those choices to make. It comes back to me." And the fact that over the course of his career to that point he'd probably swapped out more shifts and patrols than he could count, usually so married men could have holidays off it was true but still... it hadn't mattered. If he'd played it by the book, Zac wouldn't have died and Apollo wouldn't have been able to blame himself. That was how he saw it.
Boomer saw it differently. If Starbuck hadn't agreed, Zac would probably have found some other way to go on that patrol. He was an ingenious kid, after all. And if he hadn't, there was always Cimtar itself. Zac's odds of surviving that would have been pretty slim. And that would have dumped all the guilt on Adama.
But whatever, Boomer shook himself out of contemplating the what-ifs of history, yes, if Starbuck had known Zac was Zephyr's father, he did owe him, or thought he did. And maybe whatever the woman had told him had convinced him not to tell Adama and Apollo. But maybe he hadn't known. Maybe he'd just fallen for the baby, and been desperate to keep her from the Orphan Ship. Starbuck's life at the Orphanage hadn't been bad, Boomer knew, as bad was commonly defined; he hadn't been beaten, sold into prostitution, deprived of food or shelter or even a good enough education to make him able to scramble through the rigorous Academy curriculum with only a modicum of unorthodoxy. But it hadn't been good, either. It was inevitable, with thousands of orphans, that emotionally they'd all been neglected. And even now a child whose parents were not merely dead, but unknown, stood little chance of being adopted. No one wanted to risk bad bloodlines and, even less, the chance of a parent surfacing someday to take a loved child away. When there were so many other children to pick from, the poor risks got left.
And that was as likely as anything else, Boomer thought. Starbuck would have seen the chance to save Zephyr from his life, and he'd have taken it. Because no matter what Cassie thought, Boomer knew Starbuck was most definitely capable of sacrifice and hard work and forgoing his own immediate pleasures. He just had to think the end was worth it.
The shuttle lifted off—not with Starbuck's neat hands, he'd let one of the cadets take it out—and Boomer turned to go back to work. His squadron was flying the patrols today, two at a time, watching over the agrotechs. He himself was going out in two centares' time. And what he knew, or guessed, about Zephyr's parentage wasn't anything he needed to tell anyone. Adama was fond of the redheaded girl, but if he tried to co-opt her into his family, he'd be in for a shock, because she wouldn't go. No point in even starting that up, he thought pragmatically. No point at all. Let sleeping daggets lie. When they woke up and told you the truth, you were always sorry...
Bojay sat in the small chapel, where he was such a common sight he was barely noticed. He'd lit all the candles again, but this time in celebration. At last the time was come.
Starbuck and his daughter had left the Galactica, putting themselves in his reach. Finally. And they had taken other cadets, one of whom would serve as the sacrificial offering. He had only to leave his patrol sector and wait... it was inconceivable that Starbuck would not take the cadets away from the main camp to show off even if it were not something he could claim was his job. He would be vulnerable and alone.
Bojay had him.
He had spent much of the morning stealing two antipersonnel narcodust bombs, replacing them with training mockups and making sure his tracks were covered. Now all he had to do was wait two centares.
His wingman was young, not truly a Believer, but he had the gift of credulity. He could be easily led, and he didn't question orders. Bojay had spent the past yahren training him in obedience, and now a barked "Are you questioning me?" could cow the boy into doing whatever he was told. This might push him beyond what he was prepared to do—among other things, he was obsessed with the whore's daughter—but he would be controllable till then. And he was expendable.
Yes, Bojay was seeing the future in the candlelight. And it was good.
Starbuck stood in the doorway of the temporary shelter and watched. Zephyr had gone outside and was staring up in delight. The others weren't quite so bold, including some of the younger agrotechs, but they were all in the door or at the windows.
"What is this?" Clarsarc stood at his shoulder, his grey eyes alight with wonder.
"It's weather," Starbuck said. "Rain, to be precise. A thunderstorm..." He grinned. "There's nothing like flying in a storm, kids. Who's game?"
Zeffie, who was now standing with her face to the sky and arms outflung, spun around and said, "Me! Sir."
"I'd like to try it, sir," Clarsarc added.
The other two looked dubiously at the increasingly hard rain and the dark sky. "I'd really rather not, sir," said Rounder. "It seems unnatural."
Keili nodded her head in agreement.
Starbuck shook his head. "Kids," he said. "We ought to stay here for a couple of sectares, let you get to know what nature really is. Okay, then. You two stay here and keep an eye on things, lend a hand if needed. Clarsarc, Zeff, let's go."
Flying in a storm was as much fun as he'd remembered. The shuttle was not exactly aerodynamic, but that added to the challenge. "Okay," he said after a dozen or so centons, forcibly reminding himself he was supposed to teach hands-on, not by example, "who's up first?" Zeffie and Clarsarc engaged in a little silent debate and Clarsarc apparently won, because he slid into the pilot's seat when Starbuck vacated it. "Light hands," Starbuck reminded him, though Clarsarc was actually quite a good pilot, if a bit on the unimaginative side.
A crack and sizzle and the whole craft trembled slightly, glowing briefly as the sky outside blazed with momentary brilliance. "What was that?" said Clarsarc, steadying the shuttle.
"Lightning," said Starbuck, leaning on the back of the pilot's chair to peer outside. "An electrical discharge from the storm. Harmless—we're shielded—"
The shuttle rocked much more sharply and began losing altitude.
"Frack!" Starbuck lunged forward. "That was laser fire. Out of there, 'Sarc."
The cadet bailed. "I thought there weren't any autochthons," he said from the floor between the chairs.
"There aren't," Starbuck said grimly. "Or shouldn't be. Hang on there, don't try to get to the back." He was slamming the shuttle into an evasive maneuver as he spoke. "Zeff, get on comms—"
They took another hit and Zeff cried out involuntarily, yanking the earpiece off. "Comms are fried, sir," she reported calmly.
"Right," he said. "Hold on. This could get bumpy."
"Sir," Zeff said. "I think those are Vipers."
He thought so, too... but he didn't have time to think about it too hard. Another shot clipped the shuttle. He was going to have to put down; he prayed there was someplace down there to do it. Rain spilled in through the gash the last shot had opened in the compartment. Clarsarc bit back an exclamation of pain as Starbuck banked sharply to avoid a mountain looming suddenly out of the clouds. Zeffie reached to steady the boy.
He spotted an open meadow and throttled back. His instincts were screaming at him to gun it and run, but he was flying blind both ways: instruments out and visual no more than thirty metrons. He didn't know who was shooting at them, but even in the best of circumstances he couldn't outrun a Viper. On the ground they might a have a chance to get under cover. Might even be able to figure out what was going on.
As he settled the shuttle down into the grass one of the Vipers roared past so close Clarsarc, looking up through the gash, blanched. "That's a Galactica Viper," he said, sounding stunned. "Red Squadron marking—" he broke off, coughing.
Starbuck and Zeffie were coughing, too. "Frack," Starbuck realized, feeling dizzy. "He dusted us with something..."
Apollo and Boomer were going over duty schedules, incorporating some extra leave time if the techs managed to convince the Council to slow down and stay at this planet for two full sectons. The com unit chimed. "Apollo?"
"Yes, Omega, what is it?"
"We've lost communications with your planet-side patrol."
Someday Apollo was going to find out if his brother-in-law had been born with a voice that never sounded perturbed, or if they had taught that in command school... the latter, most likely. Tigh had the same voice. "What do you mean, 'lost communications'?" he asked.
"Just that," Omega said. "There are no problems with the equipment, but neither pilot is answering. And they're too deep inside the atmosphere for us to pick them up."
"I see." He didn't, really, but he was sure Omega had more to say. He almost immediately wished he'd been wrong about that.
"Apollo, we also can't reach Starbuck. The base camp says he went out with two of the cadets, to practice flying in a storm—"
"How like him," Apollo said. "But even a lightning strike shouldn't take out a shuttle's comms— No answer at all?"
Frack. "I'm on it. Thanks." He turned to Boomer. "That's not who I think it is, is it? Don't tell me we're already into Red Squadron."
"It's Bojay and Musa," Boomer said, looking worried.
"I asked you not to tell me that," Apollo said. "Why do I have a really bad feeling about this?"
"Because there's nobody on that planet but some agrotechs and four of the five people somebody already tried to kill... two of whom Bojay happens to hate like poison?" Boomer asked.
"Yeah. That sounds like why... frack. We can't just go off with nothing to go on."
"Listen," said Boomer, "a few sectons ago Giles was sounding off about Bojay. Let me find him, see if he's got anything useful to contribute."
"Do that," Apollo said decisively, standing up. "I'm going to go talk to the ordnance people, see if any solenite just happens to be missing."
"I doubt he'd get away with that again."
"If he did it this morning? He might. Go find Giles."
Apollo didn't exactly run to the turbolift, but he walked very quickly indeed. And he did trot across the bay to Jenny's, well, office wasn't quite right. Den.
"How thoroughly did your people go over Captain Bojay's Viper before he went on patrol?" Apollo asked without preliminaries.
Jenny looked at him, her no-nonsense eyes assessing. Then she reached for a clipboard. "We did a routine check on it this morning," she said, "looks like four centares before he left. And he did a pre-flight. In fact, he was messing around with it for a while. Why?"
"Is there any chance he could have gotten out of here with unauthorized ordnance?" Though the Lords of Kobol knew, just lasers could take out a shuttle. Starbuck, why the hell are you out flying in a storm, giving him such a nice target? he thought unfairly.
"Ordnance?" she asked, then broke off and hit her intercom. "Fance, check the ordnance inventories. Now." She looked at Apollo. "Him, sir?"
He didn't ask her, 'him what?' He just nodded and said, "Feels like it."
"Son of a dagget," she said.
"Um, Sarge?" the intercom said. "Are APND bombs 'ordnance'?"
"Tiger," she said very calmly, "if it has the word 'bomb' in its name, it's ordnance. How many?"
"Looks like two, sarge. We're still checking—"
"You do that," she said and turned to Apollo. "He could have taken two APNDs out with him, easy. Of course, they're not much use ship-to-ship, but on ground targets..." She shrugged. "You know, sir."
"Get my and Boomer's Vipers prepped," he said.
Starbuck came back to consciousness slowly, but not so slowly that he didn't know it would most likely be better if he was thought to still be out. That he was cold, and naked, with a truly killer headache, his hands tied savagely tight behind his back, lying on a cold damp floor, was a very convincing argument for remaining very still. This didn't seem to have been a misunderstanding...
Slitting his eyes open and not moving his head, he could see three things: two pairs of legs—one male, one female, judging by boot size—in Warrior uniform backed up and probably tied to the equipment racks at the far end of the shuttle, and Clarsarc, lying to the side in that particularly boneless manner that says I'm dead. Anger flared in him; he tried to keep it in check. Getting too angry wouldn't help. But Clarsarc had been a good kid, a smart, beautiful, hard-working boy... Is that Zeff, who's the other guy, and what the frack is going on?
"Sir, I really don't understand."
Starbuck recognized that tentative voice. Musa, the kid who'd been following Zeffie around for several years now. Probably more significantly, though: Bojay's wingman.
On cue, Musa was answered and sure enough, it was Bojay's voice, very calm. The boray must be standing right over him, Starbuck realized. "It's simple. They have to die. Especially Starbuck." A boot toe prodded his ribs; he didn't react, just flopped with the pressure. "But his daughter, too."
The relief that Zeffie was still alive lasted about a micron before it was replaced by fear and rage. Bastard, Starbuck thought savagely. Are you the one who tried to kill my daughter already? I should have killed you yahrens ago.
"Well, sir, I got that," Musa sounded uncertain. "I just don't understand why."
"Because Starbuck is the spawn of the Serpent," Bojay said, sounding terrifyingly reasonable. "He has corrupted the House of Adama and much of our youth and caused the fleet to be cast out into the wilderness. He is the worm incarnated. If we are to be saved, he must die."
If I were the spawn of the Serpent, Starbuck thought, feeling a cold sickness in his gut, I'd strike you dead this micron, you fanatic. Oh, Zeff, are you his target on my account?
But Bojay's next words relieved him of that fear, anyway, if not of any of the others. "And she is a whore's daughter, a nameless bastard who should never have been allowed to become a warrior. A symbol of the loss of righteousness. They must both die. Can't you see that? Or are you blind as well?"
"But Clarsarc, he's not, wasn't..." Musa's voice trailed off.
"The boy is the innocent offering," Bojay said. "Innocent blood seals the sacrifice. Slaughtering the guilty isn't atonement. Isn't sacrifice. The gods have told me this themselves."
Great. Starbuck had a rooted distrust of people who had conversations with gods. Prayer was one thing, even answered prayer; but when the gods started dropping by and chatting with you, you were usually ready to live in a room with padded walls and no windows. This is not good. He tested the cords; they were much too tight to get loose from. In fact, his hands were already numb, and he could feel a trickle of blood on his hip under his wrists. This is not good at all.
"I, um..." was Musa's response.
"Now do you understand, boy? If you see the light, you too can join in the work. There is more, much more, to do after this." Bojay sounded like he'd actually believe a 'yes'.
So say 'yes', Starbuck urged Musa silently. Say 'yes', get loose, and bide your time. Jump him once he's busy. But he didn't have much hope of it happening.
"This is crazy. Sir."
Oh, Starbuck could have told him that was the wrong thing to say. Bojay stepped over him and strode to the equipment racks. Starbuck heard a slap and a choked-off cry.
"You don't have to live through this," Bojay said. "I will tell of your tragic death quite convincingly; the gods will give me the words. You aren't a pure sacrifice, but a second is not needed. Your death is an acceptable loss. The whore's daughter has beguiled you with her body, hasn't she? Like her mother did. Like her father does. Weak is the flesh. Weak."
"You're pretty obsessed with sex, aren't you?" That was Zeffie.
Starbuck's relief at hearing her voice was replaced with more anger when Bojay stepped sideways and hit her.
"Silence, bitch," he said. "I'm not ready to kill you, yet; you must watch your father die first." He turned, looking, Starbuck presumed, at him. "Aren't you awake yet, worm? You must be awake to die. You must know what is happening."
Starbuck couldn't keep silent any longer, even if it might have been tactically sound. "Yeah, you son of a dagget," he said, scrambling to his knees and glaring at Bojay. "I'm awake. Wouldn't want to sleep though your little party."
"Excellent." Bojay crossed over to sit on his heels in front of Starbuck. He put his right hand on Starbuck's head, like a patriarch blessing a child. Starbuck felt a sore spot under the touch; he'd clearly been clobbered as well as gassed... which explained why he'd been out so long. Bojay smiled at him. "The cleansing may begin."
"Get your hands off him," Zeffie said furiously. She was standing with her hands obviously tied behind her around a stanchion; her jacket and blaster were missing, her hair was in disarray, and her shirt was torn, but she seemed to be in one piece. If pissed off. Beside her, also tied, Musa looked to be in shock.
Bojay touched Starbuck's cheek briefly, then stood up and crossed back to Zeffie. "I told you to be quiet," he said. "If you speak again I'll fill that whore's mouth of yours with a gag. You aren't worthy to speak to the chosen."
"Chosen what? Lunatic?"
He slapped her again. She dropped to her knees, sliding awkwardly down the equipment rack.
"You know, Bojay, if you hit people every time they tell you the truth," Starbuck said, "you're going to get really tired of—" Bojay's backhand knocked him off his knees and against the wall. He struggled to get back upright, saying, "Case in point—"
This time Bojay kicked him. "You will die, worm," he said conversationally. "You and your spawn. The Serpent cannot protect you this time, He has no power over me now."
"You're barking mad."
Another kick. Bojay's hand grabbed his hair, jerking him off the ground, eyes staring into his from centimetrons away. "Spawn of the Serpent," he said, still sounding so normal, not even angry. "You will die first. I will purge you and then kill you, and then I will kill the whore's daughter. And the weakling," he added as an afterthought. "But it won't stop there. All your evil plans are now naught. For your corrupted prince, he will be next, and the House of Adama will be purified, and Caprica's glory will be restored, and Cain's sacrifice affirmed, and the people will be delivered from the Serpent your progenitor's power and cease wandering in the wilderness and enter finally into the shining world." He stared at Starbuck, smiling almost sweetly. "Know this and despair."
Starbuck took a breath, feeling the stabbing that said Bojay had found at least one rib with his boot. "Not bloody likely."
Bojay didn't stop smiling as he slapped him, hard, twice, a backhand and then a forehand, not letting go of his hair. It hurt like hell. "It happens now, worm," he said. "I will fill you with righteousness and then kill you. Repent and you will die swiftly."
Right, thought Starbuck, licking the blood off his lips and pushing away the irrational fear that the smell of blood—anybody's blood—always called up. Fill me with righteousness... why don't I think you mean to preach at me? Over Bojay's shoulder he could see Zeff on her knees, slowly sliding her right leg backwards, a centimetron at a time. Her knife. He spoke again, as insolently as he could manage to, keeping Bojay's attention focussed on himself. "What's the matter, Boje? Can't get it up anymore without somebody else's blood to taste?"
"Silence, worm!" For the first time Bojay shouted.
"Picked by gods, are you? I doubt it—"
Bojay threw him backwards and kicked him in the face. Pain exploded behind his cheekbone and for an agonizing moment he fought blacking out and throwing up, winning both battles, but barely. Can't pass out now, he thought grimly. Got to hold his attention, keep him from looking at Zeff. "I know what you really are," he said, spitting out blood. "Remember the old days?"
He most definitely had Bojay's undivided attention now. The other man grabbed him by the throat, slamming him into the wall. "Unrepentant, perverted, serpentspawn," he snarled, flecks of spittle hitting Starbuck's face. "You'll beg for mercy and get none. I'll fill your corrupt body with my righteousness and you will scream for death."
Starbuck had looked at death before, and into the eyes of madness as well, most notably Baltar's. But nothing had ever chilled him like Bojay... there was not the slightest hint of sanity left. He was unreachable. Starbuck knew he was going to die. Remarkably, he wasn't afraid of it. He didn't want to die, but if he could keep Bojay occupied with killing him, so that others, more important, didn't die, it was all right. It was good... He felt no great patriotism, it wasn't the fleet on his mind. He could in fact barely think of Keili and Rounder, Musa and the agro techs... In the clarity of the moment his focus had narrowed to what, to who, was important. In the last moment of stillness, he prayed. Not to the gods, though it was not because he believed they were in fact talking to Bojay but because Bojay's existence proved the gods at best powerless. Nor did he pray now to the dead, for they did nothing more than watch, sometimes warn, and besides he'd be with them soon enough. Instead, his prayers were to the living, desperate silent communications flung across the distances from his heart to theirs: Apollo, I love you. Boomer, keep him safe. 'Theni, don't let him blame himself. Zeffie—oh, Zeffie, when you get free—run!
And then he set himself to make his death take as long as possible.
Why had she never practiced this? Why had she never thought about having to be able to get her knife out of her boot under circumstances as adverse as these, about needing to be able to contort herself into knots—don't think about why he's not looking at you—to reach it at all? About needing to be able to hold it in numb fingers and slice through cords around her own wrists, cords she couldn't see, without dropping it, crippling herself, or drawing attention? Not that Bojay looked likely to be distracted... She bit her tongue, using the pain to force her mind away from what was happening to her father, forcing herself to think only of the knife, only of getting free. One step at a time, she thought, blocking out the sounds, paying no more attention to the tears running down her face. Leg and leg over went the dagget to Tover. Leg and leg over...
She must have repeated that a thousand times or more before, suddenly, her hands were free. The jerk when the cord finally parted sent the knife falling to the shuttlecraft's floor, clattering, it seemed, very loudly. But Bojay didn't notice. She reached for it; it slipped out of her fingers, which were, she noticed detachedly, not merely clumsily numb but streaked with blood where she'd cut her wrists and the palm of her left hand. Still forcing herself to think one step at a time, next immediate object, no further, she flexed her hands, driving the circulation back into them. Then she grabbed the knife off the floor and stood up.
Next to her, Musa was staring at Bojay and her father, his face white; she didn't think he'd even noticed she was loose. She spared a couple of microns to wish it was 'Sarc still alive, he'd've been useful. Then she sliced through the cords holding him against the rack and, while automatically resheathing her knife with her right hand, yanked his blaster from its holster with her left. Clearly Bojay's opinion of Musa matched hers... and he didn't even seem to register what she'd done.
His blaster was a 250, of course, big in her hands, but she didn't know where hers was and she could shoot this one. She turned to look at Bojay for the first time in what seemed centares. He was on his knees, an arm around her father's neck, her father between them. He was paying no attention to anything except "filling Starbuck with righteousness"...
She didn't hesitate a micron; the only thing she was conscious of was a cold, black hatred and an absolute need to kill. She leveled the blaster at him, holding it with both hands as if she were target shooting. "Bojay, you bastard," she called, "Look. At. Me."
He did. Rage crossed his face. He let go of Starbuck, who crumpled to the floor, and reached for his own blaster. But as soon as Starbuck was out of her line of fire, she pulled the trigger. The first shot slammed Bojay against the shuttle's wall and the second pinned him there.
She covered the space between them in three strides. She knelt beside Starbuck but before she even looked at him she placed the muzzle of the blaster against Bojay's head and blasted him one more time. No vid-villain-getting-up-at-the-worst-possible-moment for him. She didn't even care if there was enough left to identify. She laid the blaster down and pulled out her knife, slicing through the cords around Starbuck's wrists. They were dug in so deeply he'd have scars for the rest of his life... she refused to entertain any ifs about that. She simply refused.
He was unconscious—finally, thank the gods—, covered in blood and bruises and other marks she didn't want to think about. Certainly not now. His face was so badly damaged she could barely recognize him. His right arm was clearly broken; not only was it bent in the middle of the forearm, but bone had pierced the skin. It was bleeding, badly. She eased him onto his side and applied pressure; the bleeding slowed.
"Musa," she said, not looking up. "Go call for help."
When she didn't hear him move she looked up. He was still standing right where she'd left him when she cut him free; he hadn't moved at all.
"Go!" she shouted, looking at him in anger. "Don't just stand there! Find your fracking Vipers and call for help!"
He didn't move.
She swore and jumped to her feet one more time, grabbing him and shoving him to his knees beside Starbuck. She seized his hand and put it on her father's bleeding arm, above the break. "Hold that," she ordered. "Tight. And don't let go." She grabbed his chin and stared into his shocky blue eyes. "Do you hear me? If you let go I'll kill you."
She didn't wait for an answer, but grabbed the blaster, jumped to her feet and ran outside. The rain was still falling. Unexpectedly, though she'd seen pictures of it and read books, too, the ground was soft and squishy under her boots. So this is mud, she thought detachedly, scrabbling to keep from falling. How interesting.
She ran a few metrons and then stopped short, realizing she didn't know which way to go. Frack. Frack, frack, frack... Suddenly she heard herself screaming it. "Frackfrackfrackfrack!" She hit herself on the leg with the blaster as hard as she could. "Stop that," she said aloud. "Stop it. You can't. You don't have time."
She took a deep breath and pivoted slowly in a circle. They couldn't have hidden the Vipers and surely they wouldn't have landed very far away—there. There they were. She ran to them, slipping in the mud, the rain plastering her hair to her face. She shoved the blaster in her belt and scrambled up onto the fin to get inside. She pulled the helmet off the seat where whichever of them it was flew this one had left it and pulled it on over her wet hair. Then she settled into the seat and powered up enough to get comms working.
The familiar crackle came up in her ears. "Galactica operations," she called. "Come in, Galactica ops. Please."
An unfamiliar voice answered. "This is Galactica operations. Identify yourself."
"Galactica operations, this is..." Oh, gods. She couldn't remember what call her father had been using. "This is Cadet Zephyr."
"Cadet? What are you doing on a Viper frequency?"
Then a different voice, a calm one that she knew, but which identified itself anyway. "Zephyr? This is Omega. What's wrong?"
She forgot all her protocol. "Uncle Omega, oh gods, Bojay tried to kill us. He hurt Dad, real bad, oh gods I think he might die—"
"Zeffie," Omega cut in. "Zeffie, stay calm. Are you hurt?"
"No." She took a deep breath. I am a Warrior! I can stay calm. "'Sarc's dead, Bojay killed him. I'm all right."
"Good. Are you at the base camp? Zeffie? Are you at the base camp?"
"No. I don't know where we are." To her horror she heard her voice break again.
"That's okay. We'll find you. Keep transmitting. Even if you can't think of anything to say keep the frequency open and we'll find you. Do you understand?"
"Yes." If she talked in one-word sentences, two- or three-, she'd be okay. "I understand. Send a doctor. He's hurt so badly..." take a breath "...he needs a doctor."
"Okay. Where's Bojay?"
Thank God. He believed her. She'd thought she might have to convince them. "Dead. Musa's here..."
"Okay. Zeffie, keep transmitting now. If I have to I can break in, but keep transmitting."
So she did. She told them about the storm-flight, about the Viper attack, about Bojay's driving them down and dusting them, and about his religious ravings. And that her father had enraged him enough that he tried to beat him to death—she shied from the assault, she couldn't bring herself to think about it let alone tell it—so she could get loose... and then, to her shame, she started crying and couldn't stop. She was still crying half a centare later when Apollo and Boomer landed in the meadow.
Boomer hadn't found Giles, but he had to agree with Apollo: Bojay not answering + missing ordnance + Starbuck not answering = nothing but trouble. "Of course," he added, "I'm not sure just what you think we're going to do down there."
"Start at the base camp and look for Starbuck," said Apollo. "We've got to find him before Bojay does."
"Narcobombs sounds a bit promising," Boomer said. Apollo couldn't see his face, of course, and he wondered if Boomer were really hopeful. "Considering he used solenite last time, I mean," he added.
"I don't know. I can think of a lot of reasons why sleepers would be a really bad thing."
"Huh." Apparently Boomer could, too.
They didn't say anything for a while. Apollo was hoping like hell he was wrong, that Bojay and Musa would show up on the Galactica bitching about their comms failure, that the APNDs would be an inventory error, and that a lightning bolt had after all proven able to take out a shuttle's comms... Or, if that was too much to ask, any one of the three. Or, if that was too much, that Starbuck had found someplace to tuck his shuttle and his kids and his own self away, neatly and securely out of sight, and was just sitting there while Bojay hunted for him. And once that would have been too much to ask, but Starbuck was steady now, he was responsible, he'd be careful.
"Please. Make him safe," he whispered.
"You say something?" Boomer asked.
"Apollo," Omega's voice saved him from having to answer. "We've gotten a call from Zeff."
"Zeff?" Oh, gods, where was Starbuck? "Are they all right?"
"She's shaken," Omega said. "I'll try to get the whole story out of her, but Starbuck is badly injured, and Bojay and Clarsarc are dead."
Mixed news if ever there was. "Where are they?"
"She doesn't know. We're triangulating but it will take a few centons. We're putting together a medical team to send; I thought you'd like to be first once we get their location."
His sister had married a remarkably perspicacious man.
"How bad is Starbuck?" Boomer was asking.
"We don't know," Omega said. "Very bad, I'm afraid."
"I'll patch in Zeff."
Apollo didn't like any of it. He didn't like the story he was hearing, or the tone in her voice, or the way she stopped and started as if there things she wasn't telling—what could be worse than what she was saying?—and certainly not the way she started crying and didn't seem able to stop. He willed the ops crew to get the location as quickly as possible, and when they did, peeled out to the other side of the planet with Boomer on his tail.
He spotted the Vipers in a meadow—the rain Zeffie had mentioned was over—and then the remains of the shuttle at the other end of it, badly battered, even sliced open. Fracking Bojay, he thought and eased his Viper down in the middle of the meadow. As he landed, Boomer said, "You go to the shuttle, Apollo. I'll check on Zeff." He felt a moment's guilt—he hadn't even thought about her—then acknowledged. He barely waited for his engines to stop before he was unlatching the canopy and pushing himself out onto the grass, slipping in the wet as he ran for the shuttle, praying wordlessly with every step.
He froze for a moment in the doorway. There was a dead cadet next to him—Clarsarc—and Musa was kneeling on the floor, his back to the door. Starbuck's body was sprawled in front of the young pilot. And Bojay's half-dressed body was crumpled against the wall. At least, Apollo presumed it was Bojay, it was wearing uniform, but its face was burned beyond recognition.
Not that Apollo gave a damn about Bojay. He skidded to his knees beside Musa, who jerked around with a dazed, terrified look on his face, his eyes almost all pupil. "I didn't let go," he said. "I didn't let go."
Apollo looked where Musa was hanging on to Starbuck's arm. The sight of the pale bone piercing the flesh made him swallow hard, but the bleeding was only a sluggish trickle. But when he touched Starbuck's bare skin, it was cold and clammy, and Apollo realized with a start that the floor was wet. He stripped out of his jacket and tucked it carefully around Starbuck's bruised and bloody torso, discovering injuries that made his stomach roil. He put his fingers under Starbuck's jaw, wincing at the sight of his best friend's battered face. It was so swollen he wasn't sure how he could recognize him... the pulse was so weak he almost couldn't feel it. Gods, he prayed, don't... Don't you dare die on me, Starbuck.
He looked at Musa, who was sitting back on his heels, lost. "Give me your jacket," he said.
Musa blinked at him. "I didn't let go," he said again.
"No, you didn't. Now give me your jacket."
Musa just stared at him. He was about one micron from ripping it off him when Boomer's hand pushed the boy out of the way, putting his own jacket over Starbuck's legs. "Lords of Kobol," he said in a voice shocky with horror, "he still alive?"
"Yes," Apollo said.
"He's not going to die."
Apollo jerked his head up to see Zeffie kneeling down by her father's head.
"He's not. He can't, can he, Uncle Apollo?" She was pulling off her own jacket and folding it up to put under his head.
Apollo wasn't sure she wasn't in shock herself, but he didn't think he could tell her to keep her jacket on. "No," he said, hoping his voice sounded surer than he was. "He can't die. You hear me, Starbuck? You're not allowed to die."
"Gods, Apollo," said Boomer. Apollo stared at him and he subsided, putting one hand on Starbuck's shoulder where it looked like it might not hurt. "Hang in there, buddy," the Leonid said. "Hang in there. They're on their way."
Apollo found himself holding one of Starbuck's hands. He clenched his jaw, hard, when the condition of the blond's wrist finally registered. He looked up and over at Bojay's body. He'd died much too fast, much too fast... "Stay with us, Bucko," he said, hearing his voice break, not caring. "Stay with us."
When the medical team arrived, Boomer had to haul Apollo out of the way. Salik himself had come, his face grim as he prepared the battered Starbuck for moving. IVs were inserted, an oxygen canula—Apollo heard the sharply indrawn breath of the tech who got a good luck at Starbuck's shattered cheek and eye but Salik's glare kept the man from words—and then bandages and thermal wraps. Very, very gently, as if they were moving something infinitely fragile and precious—care that frightened Apollo, who'd seen how quickly they usually moved in the field—they lifted Starbuck and put him in the basket litter, strapping him down.
He hadn't moved or made a sound, even of pain, since Apollo had gotten there.
"Doctor?" Apollo said, putting out a hand to hold Salik.
"I can't say, Sub-Colonel. I need to get him back. Now. Are you coming, young woman?"
Zeffie was on her feet before he'd finished the question.
"There's room for you, too, Apollo. If you stay out of our way." Salik tossed that over his shoulder as he followed after the techs.
"Go on, Apollo. I'll stay here with the boy and Clarsarc. And that—" he lifted his chin at Bojay's corpse.
"Throw that out for whatever eats carrion on this planet," Apollo said savagely and hurried after Salik and Zeffie. He didn't think the doctor would wait. He didn't want him to.
Apollo rode back to the Galactica in silence, watching Salik hover over Starbuck. Beside him, Zeffie sat in silence, her eyes never leaving her dad, but passively allowing one of the techs to clean and bandage her wrists. Apollo noticed they didn't seem as bad as Starbuck's, bruised to a nice dark color but not raw. There were a few cuts, including a rather deep one on the ball of her left thumb... she'd cut herself free, he realized. He remembered, vividly, her thirteen-yahren-old self hugging Starbuck with a razor-sharp Sagittan boot-knife in her grasp, and Starbuck saying you never know when you'll need a good blade...
He choked back a sob. She blinked and looked sideways at him, then put her hand on his leg. "He won't die, Uncle Apollo," she said seriously. "He just can't. Not now."
Gods, he hoped she'd inherited some prescience from her mother...
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
The waiting room was crowded. Zeffie sat, in silence, with Athena next to her, one of her arms around the cadet. Omega had handed the bridge off to someone and stood beside his wife in equal stillness, one hand on Athena's shoulder. Adama sat, talking quietly to Djan, looking at the surgery door every centon or so. A dozen cadets were there, shocked young faces, pacing nervously. A handful of pilots—Jolly, Dietra, Giles, a few others—were clustered together, telling each other every story of how Starbuck had cheated death before. Every so often one of them went out into the corridor to pass on the lack of news.
Boomer had come up as soon as he could back from the planet, which was after another shuttle had gone down, with pilots to ferry up the other Vipers and someone from Security to take charge of Musa, and someone to bring up the bodies... He settled next to Apollo, putting his hand on Apollo's shoulder in comfort. Or protection maybe. Apollo wasn't sure which. He fought the urge to bury his face in Boomer's ribcage and weep.
How long has it been? he wondered. I guess the longer the better. He hasn't... I haven't lost him yet.
The door opened and Tigh came through. Omega raised an eyebrow and started to straighten, but Tigh shook his head and he settled back next to Athena. The colonel leaned down and spoke to Adama, whose face darkened with anger. He answered, shortly, probably savagely, thought Apollo, familiar with the expression, but he couldn't hear and didn't care what his father was saying. Tigh nodded, once, and left.
An eternity later, the door opened again and Sheba came in, rumpled from patrol, looking around. When she saw him, she crossed over and sat on the arm of the bench. "It'll be all right," she said to him softly. "Have faith, Apollo. He'll pull through."
He looked at her, feeling gratitude through the fear. She put her arms around him and pulled him close, resting her cheek against his hair. He clung to her, knowing it was safe because he was allowed to. "He has to, Sheba," he said. "He has to..."
"He'll make it," she said to him, so softly no one else could hear. "He won't leave you alone."
On his other side Boomer left his hand on his shoulder. Apollo closed his eyes and prayed some more.
When Dr. Salik finally came out into the waiting room, every person there rose to their feet. He found Zephyr and walked to her. She swallowed hard, but he smiled tiredly. The whole room relaxed. "You can go in and see him," he said. "He's unconscious, he probably won't know you're there and he won't wake up if he does—he's too deeply sedated for that. But you can see him. He's going to recover."
Zeff hugged him and bolted through the door. Salik looked around the room. "No other visitors," he said. "Not for several days, at any rate. Maybe a secton. But, I repeat, he'll make virtually a full recovery."
"Virtually?" said Apollo, and immediately felt ungrateful.
"He's going to have scars," said Salik. "He might lose a little dexterity in his left hand, I can't tell how badly damaged the tendons are. He's bound to have vision problems in his right eye. There may well be memory loss—not a bad thing in this case if you ask me. And one of his knees may give him trouble in the weather. Assuming we get to Earth and they have bad weather, of course. Otherwise, he'll be fine. Mended his ribs, mended his arm. Lost blood of course, and generally was beaten up rather badly, but nothing that can't be fixed." He ran his hand over his bald head. "He'll recover. So, everyone please go home and let me have my Life Center back. Except you—" he added softly, gesturing at Apollo.
The waiting room cleared out, pilots and cadets leaving with loud relief. Adama touched Apollo's arm and said, quietly, "Come and talk to me when you can, son."
Athena hugged him and said, "I don't care what the regs say, I'm taking Zeffie home and staying with her. She shouldn't be in the barracks tonight."
Omega nodded and said, "I'll get the boys then. Call me when you get there, Athena."
She nodded and looked at Salik, who jerked his head toward the door. "Yes," he said. "Give her a few more moments and then get her home. Put her to bed, keep her warm. Tell her she can come back in the morning, if they don't arrest her."
"Arrest her?" said Apollo. "What for?"
"Premeditated human termination," said Salik, gesturing at the Security officer hovering near the door.
"You're kidding," said Boomer.
"I doubt it," said Sheba. "Athena, get one of the techs to show you the back way out of here. I'll hang around like I'm waiting for you."
Sheba smiled. "Go on and get her."
Boomer said, "I'm taking you home, Apollo. So find out what the doctor wants. I don't want to have carry you when you pass out."
Salik smiled. "Not as farfetched as you might think. Come with me, Apollo."
He pushed open the door to his office and sat on the edge of his desk. "Short and not very sweet," he said. "Captain Starbuck's probably not going to be fit for combat duty, not as a Viper pilot. I glossed it over out there, but he's almost certainly going to have vision problems bad enough to ground him. The bastard nearly kicked his eye out, and there were bone fragments in his cornea and ciliary muscle, which will affect his ability to focus that eye. It won't stop him getting around and functioning quite well on a daily basis, but combat piloting? Probably not."
"Starbuck's very, very good," Apollo protested automatically.
"And maybe he will be again, or at least good enough. I'm only telling you that he's not going to be as good as he was. There's a possibility of other neural damage, as well. Headaches, maybe. I'm warning you, that's all. You may want to think about finding him a job that doesn't involve needing to be able to judge with split-micron and pin-point accuracy where somebody who's trying to kill him is. Also," he looked down at the floor, then back up at Apollo, "he'll probably need counselling. That was as savage an attack as I've ever seen anyone live through. And there was a sexual component to it."
"I thought so," Apollo admitted.
"He'll recover, physically. But even if there is no visual or neural damage, I couldn't sign off on him as fit for duty until a counselor agrees."
"I understand," Apollo said. "Thank you for letting me know."
Salik shrugged. "You're his commanding officer, aren't you? And his friend. He's going to need the latter, Apollo. He's a strong man; he's not used to being a victim."
Apollo wasn't sure what his face showed, but Salik shook his head.
"I know, Apollo," he said. "But Cylons hate the entire human race. Bojay hated him. It's different. Don't expect him to bounce back from this like any other injury he's ever had."
"I understand, I think."
"I hope so. Mind you, that girl of his is going to need counselling, too. What she saw..." Salik shook his head. "Don't let the fact that she's strong enough to function in the emergency fool you into thinking she's too strong to break. Get her counselling before she goes on combat duty."
"Okay. Then get out of my office. I'm tired enough to pass out right here, and I've still got work to do."
"You can look in on him now," Salik conceded. "And you can see him again when he wakes up. We'll just pretend you're all family. Does a patient good to have more than one visitor. Now go away."
Apollo did. He opened the door to the recovery room carefully, in case Zeffie was still there, not wanting to intrude. But Athena had already taken her away, so he walked up to the pod where Starbuck, swathed in bandages until he was almost unrecognizable, lay. "Hey, Bucko," he said softly. "Can you hear me?"
There was no reaction from the sedated man. Apollo smiled at himself, closing his eyes against the sudden tears that threatened. "Well, in case you can, listen up. You're going to be fine. Zeffie's safe, and you're safe, and Bojay is in the seventh hell. Possibly they've even made a new one all for him." He reached out involuntarily and threaded his fingers through Starbuck's thick fair hair. "Gods, Bucko, I'm sorry. But I won't let you get hurt again. I promise. 'Cause I love you, you know that. I have to go now, but I'll be back. A lot." He touched a finger to a unbandaged, unbruised spot on Starbuck's left cheek and then he left.
And Boomer refused to let him go anywhere but home. When they got there, Sheba was gone, he didn't know where (though he could probably have guessed if he'd wanted to), but Boomer came in with him, and got him a drink, and talked with him until the ambrosa and nerves and terror caught up with him and he passed out in midsentence.
Cassie deleted her search results and all related files without even looking at them. She didn't care any longer if she was right in her guess about who was the girl's biological father, and she was sure she was. She didn't care if Apollo would have to step down and Boomer would get the promotion he deserved and would be waiting on for years otherwise. The girl in the critical care unit, talking softly and non-stop to Starbuck, anchoring him to life by her voice, that girl had a father whom she loved. And Starbuck had a daughter whom he loved enough to die for. It wasn't right that anybody should think about trying to replace him in her life with anyone.
She loved Boomer, very much. He was everything she needed, even though it had taken her a long time to realize it. She loved their children, too. But standing in the doorway just now and watching Zephyr and Starbuck, she'd realized that she still had a flare of regret. And anger. And jealousy. Somehow, Starbuck had never loved her quite as much as she'd known he was capable of loving someone. There'd always been the shadow of another person between them. And she'd always suspected who.
But in the face of what she'd seen over the last day, she knew that, right or not, it wasn't hers to do anything about. It wasn't her place to punish Apollo for being first with Starbuck, even if she felt he used that for his own purposes. Because doing that would hurt Starbuck far worse than she'd allowed herself to think about, even though, it was obvious, there was no way he'd lose Zephyr's love. And he'd certainly been hurt enough already.
"Hey," Boomer said softly, his hands coming down gently on her shoulders; she hadn't heard him come in. "What are you doing?"
She looked at the blank screen in front of her, reflecting her face, and then tilted her head up to look up at him. "I don't know why you love me sometimes," she said.
He tightened his hold. "I could give you a long list, but just because, sweetheart." He bent down and kissed the top of her head. "Just because... what have you been doing, you need to ask me that?"
She shook her head and then leaned back to rest against him. "Just sitting here, thinking," she said. "Thinking about love, and hate, and insanity. Jealousy. Not being able to let go."
"Sounds depressing," he said gently.
"It was, kind of. I love you so much."
"I know," he said. "And you were crazy about Starbuck. I know that, too. I don't mind; how can I? I still am, just a slightly different flavor."
"Crazy," she said meditatively. "That's what it is, isn't it? What he does? Makes people crazy."
"At least we don't all react like Bojay."
Cassie glanced reflexively at her computer. Not as bad, maybe... just a slightly different flavor. "Boomer, do you think he knows who her father is? Her biological father, I mean?"
"Probably," he said. She could read him well enough by now to know he thought he did. "Does it matter?"
"No," she said. "It doesn't. She loves him enough to kill for him. And he loves her enough to die for her. That's all that matters."
"Die?" Boomer said sharply.
"Oh, no, he won't. Though it was damn close. But he tried to. That's what counts." She stood up. "Boomer, are you off duty?"
"Good. Take me home."
"Any time you want," he said, putting his arm around her and holding her close. "Let's go."
Although he'd have rather been in the Life Center, Apollo had his duties to perform. But this wasn't, strictly speaking, one of them. Although, as Sub-Colonel (Strike), you could argue that anything to do with cadets was his business.
"What the—" he bit back the word and substituted, "hell is Security doing nosing around the Life Center?"
"Something has to be done about Zephyr's terminating Bojay," Adama said. "The Council—"
"Father," Apollo stared unbelievingly at him. "You're not serious. You are. What do those idiots think she should have done? Stood there and watched that fracking lunatic rape and kill Starbuck and then start in on her?"
"No, I'm sure they don't. But the law is uncompromising. Deliberate human termination is a crime—"
"Bojay killed Clarsarc," Apollo interrupted. "He was doing his utmost to kill Starbuck. The circumstances were not normal."
"No," Adama agreed. "And I'm quite sure that a plea of self-defense would be accepted without question."
"No," Apollo said sharply.
Adama looked at him in surprise. "No?"
"No," his son repeated. "That's not acceptable. I'm not an advocate, but I Protected Starbuck, remember? When he was accused of terminating Ortega all those yahrens ago? I remember exactly what Solon said. 'You'd undoubtedly be dropped by the Colonial Service but you'd most likely only receive a suspended sentence.' Most likely! She loses her commission and maybe spends time on the Prison Barge for putting down that rabid dagget? That would be the definition of a travesty. It shouldn't be considered human termination. It should be considered her duty. Hell, Father, she should get a fracking medal for it."
"I know. But, Father, it's not reasonable. It's not just. It's not right. He was going to kill all of them. He did kill that cadet. If self-defense means she's dismissed and goes to prison, the law's insane. As insane as Bojay."
"The law is inflexible, Apollo."
"Well, it shouldn't be. And I know there's only supposed to be ten centares until the Tribunal convenes and we've already pushed it to twice that. And I know she ought to be in the brig. Or at least under guard in the Life Center. I know it all. And I say, Frack the Council. And the Tribunal. And the Opposers, and the Law. She's staying with Starbuck; she's not going anywhere. And when the Tribunal convenes, I'm Protecting her. And if I lose, she's not going to the Prison Barge. There's not a Warrior on the Galactica, from Sub-Colonel to Private, who'll let Security get their hands on her. And there are more than a few of us who'll resign our commissions if she has to."
"I know," he said. "It's blackmail, and against the regs and the law."
"It's wrong. I mean," Adama lifted his hand, "it's incorrect in a couple of particulars. There's not a Warrior from Commander to Private who'll let her go to prison for this. And Colonel Tigh is Protecting her."
"He has a lot more experience than you, and he'll impress the Tribunal more. Besides, you have to be a witness."
"This is ridiculous." Apollo was suddenly calmer, knowing that Adama and Tigh were on their side. "I can't believe there's even a charge being laid."
"Tigh's arguing that with the Chief Opposer right now." Adama leaned back in his chair. "I have every hope he'll convince him to decide not to bring charges. He's holding back the threat of a mutiny for a last resort."
"I suppose they could find her Not Guilty by Reason of Justification," said Apollo.
"That's how I would vote," Adama nodded. "But no charges being brought at all would be the best."
"That's what he decided," Tigh said from the doorway.
Apollo sank onto his father's desk in relief.
"He didn't relish arguing for any penalties to be brought against a young woman who had to watch her father undergoing what we had fairly graphic visuals of to present to the Tribunal. Musa, on the other hand—"
"Yes, what about him?" Adama said. "Are they bringing charges?"
"The Opposer wasn't sure what charges to bring. I convinced him to let us handle it," Tigh said. "As a military matter."
"He fired on the shuttle," Apollo protested.
"Actually, he says he didn't. He just watched while Bojay did. And in the end he wouldn't go along with Bojay."
"I don't want him in my wing," Apollo said uncompromisingly.
Tigh nodded understandingly. "I don't want him on the Galactica."
"Well, neither of you have to worry," said Adama. "He asked to speak with me, so I went to see him. He's a very distressed young man, who feels very keenly his failure to spot how insane his Squadron Leader was—"
Apollo had to admit, "He wasn't the only one who missed that. But he is the one who went with him to Clarsarc's World."
That was the first time Adama and Tigh had heard what the Warriors had named the planet. Adama nodded. "That's true. He knows he failed badly. Not only in spotting Bojay's madness, but afterwards. He froze up. He's afraid that he'll do it again. He told me he wants to resign his commission and go to another ship, an agroship or some other place where he can work at a job that won't require—"
"Guts?" suggested Apollo. "Sorry..."
"No, I don't think you are. But that's understandable." Adama sighed. "I agree with him, at any rate. He's no longer capable of serving, even if people would work with him. If he just goes away, that will be the simplest and quickest way to get this behind us. He'll need counselling, and I'll make that a condition of his employment."
"She'll need it, too," said Tigh. "Bojay was a piece of felgarcarb at the end, but he was still inside a human body. And she killed him. That and what she saw, she'll need to work through it with a professional. But she's strong. I see no reason why she shouldn't go ahead and graduate, get commissioned, and be assigned to a squadron with her classmates."
"Good," Apollo stood up. "That's done, then. Now... We have a funeral to arrange. Damn. Starbuck should be there, to give the eulogy. But I don't suppose we can wait."
Tigh said, "Zephyr's giving it. It seemed right."
"Is that wise?" Adama asked with concern. "Is she up to it?"
"She agreed," Tigh said. "I think it'll be fine.
"It will," Apollo nodded. "She's tough."
That afternoon Boomer stopped by Athena's quarters, a little uncertain about it but feeling that if he was to be any help to Apollo over the next few days he'd better know what was going on.
"Hi," she said, opening the door. "If you're looking for Omega, he's not home yet. If you're looking for me, bless you and come in. I need some company that's over three today."
He grinned and did so, snatching up the little boy who had come running to see who the visitor was and could he duck into the hallway while the door was open. "Rascal," Boomer chuckled. "Not very well behaved for a Prince of Caprica." By now, details of Bojay's less unfocussed ramblings were all over the ship, source, most likely, Musa's guards.
"Don't even start that," Athena said, very seriously. "In the first place it's felgarcarb, all that about Houses and so on. Tigh's second in command of this fleet, not Apollo. And I would hope we have enough sense to pick our leaders on the basis of their ability, not their bloodline, some Council members notwithstanding. Let's put you in with your brother, okay, Lykos? You two amuse yourselves for a bit. Mommy's going to have a grown-up talk."
She reached for the child, but Boomer shook his head and said, "I'll carry him. I kind of miss mine being little enough to put places."
"And in the second place?" he asked, putting the boy down next to Kairos.
Athena said, "And in the second place, if we are paying attention to all that, then, even if these two are the only legitimate blood grandchildren my father has, they're not House of Adama. They're House of Lares."
That distracted him. "House of Lares? I didn't know Omega was related to Sire Lares."
"He was the old man's senior great-grandson," she said. "Not that that matters now, and I can't believe I even brought it up. I should have said, House of Omega... It's just I don't want people thinking stupid things."
"Good luck with that," said Boomer. "People being people, I mean." He followed her back out to the front room, wondering how hard it had been for Omega to so successfully kill all talk of his family connections. It had helped, he supposed, that none of the House of Lares had been in the Service. And, in a twisted way, that none had survived the Destruction. If a Larean had been on the new Council, it might have been different. But, as she had said, it didn't matter now and it wasn't what he'd come to talk about. Neither was what he said next, but he was a methodical man and she'd brought it up. "So, you guessed about Zephyr? I mean," he clarified, "that 'legitimate grandchild' line."
She shot him a look from her pale blue eyes and seemed to consider what to say next.
"You think she's Zac's?" he said, committing himself.
She shrugged. "It seemed pretty obvious one I thought about it. Here, look." She crossed the room and picked up a picture lying on a shelf of the storage unit. It was of Zac, in uniform. "I got him to pose for this a couple of days after he was assigned here." She looked down at it a bit sadly, then handed it to Boomer. "You know, she's a sectare older than he got to be? But they're almost exactly the same age, her now and him then."
Boomer looked at the picture. He didn't think he'd seen it before, she hadn't kept it out front as far as he could remember, not that he'd been in her quarters all that often. The occasional party... Zac's resemblance to Zephyr was strong in this picture; the uniform helped, but it was just, as she'd said, pretty obvious. "You didn't say anything?"
"What was there to say? By the time I guessed, she was already fourteen. Pointless to bring it up, it would just have caused a lot of grief for everyone. I'm not sure Father and Apollo are ready to hear it now, for that matter," she added.
"So you think he was right?"
"Starbuck? Yes. I mean, first of all, Father would have had a fit, his baby with a whore. If he believed it. Apollo, too. She'd have been miserable with them, and Lords know she's been fantastically happy with Starbuck. Besides, if her mother knew she was Zac's—and how else would Starbuck have known?—then she'd have had to have some pretty compelling reason not to go to Father. I don't know what it was, but I'm sure Starbuck thought this over."
Boomer looked at the picture again. "It's funny," he said, thinking about it. "I know he was a man, a commissioned officer... I mean, we call them 'green kids' but they're not children, kids his age. People his age. But I still find myself thinking of him like he was, I don't know. Fifteen."
"That's Father and Apollo," she said, taking the picture from him and touching it gently with her fingertips. "They've got him preserved in amber, always a boy. The baby of the family. He never really got the chance to prove to them he was grown up. Father hardly saw him when he was a child, and even Apollo, he was so much older and gone himself when Zac went through his teens. And he was always the quintessential older brother, always the responsible one. I was in the Service, too, but I was stationed in Caprica City while Zac was at the Academy. And I was his older sister, not his little sister, so the dynamic was different. He used to come and talk to me..." she sighed and replaced the picture. "I knew he was growing up. Had grown up. But they didn't really have a chance to find that out. He was only here a few days. You know what my first thought was, when I realized Zeff must be his? I was so glad he'd actually had sex before he died. I couldn't say that to them, you know? But I was."
Boomer shook his head gently. She was right, it wasn't the first thing that would occur to Apollo. Or the last, for that matter. Which reminded him of why he had come over. "Athena," he said, "I was wondering if I could talk to you about, well..."
He paused. She smiled. "I didn't think you'd come over to admire the boys. Can I get you some kava? And whatever it is, Boomer, of course you can."
"Thanks," he said. The minutia of that allowed him to get his thoughts back in order, and when they were sitting down he started, "I was surprised, the other night, when I took your brother to his quarters. Sheba wasn't there... I'd thought, from the way they were acting in the Life Center, that as soon as she got out of there, you know, away from Security..." he paused, trying to think of the best way to put it.
"That she'd go home to Apollo?" Athena said. "Lords, Boomer, I thought you knew, when you volunteered to take him home. You took her off the hook, doing that. I'm sure she went to Giles's."
"You really didn't know," she observed. "Well, I shouldn't be surprised. He's such a private person, after all. And Sheba and Giles, they're not likely to let it out. Or any of the men she's had affairs with, for that matter."
Boomer blinked. That was a very calm reaction.
Athena laughed a little. "Oh, that sounded bad, didn't it? I didn't mean it to. She's still not my favorite person in the fleet, but she's good for my brother, in an odd way. They really do get along with each other, very well now that she's accepted who he is."
"I think I'm lost," he said carefully. "Are you saying he knows?"
"He knows, but he doesn't know. He can't know officially or he'd have to do something, and he doesn't want to. He's pretty happy. He's always been fond of Sheba, and she's fond of him. It's a lot better than when she was madly in love with him. Then she was unhappy, and that made him unhappy. And she does take care of him, when he needs it. Like the other night. He needed someone to hold on to. When you came in, I thought you would do, but I should have known better. I don't mean he doesn't love you, or that you can't take care of him, but you're not who he thinks is someone he can hold onto in public. I was trying to decide if I could give Zeffie to Omega—I was afraid she wouldn't want a man just then, she'd said... anyway, then Sheba got there and it was all right. But when you said you'd take him home, she didn't have to. He'd rather you in private than her. So she didn't. She went and found what she needed and let him get what he needed from you."
"We aren't—" Boomer started to protest.
"No. Of course not. But sex isn't what I'm talking about, not for him." She looked into her kava and sighed, then looked up and shrugged. "He's not a very passionate man, my brother. Affectionate, yes, and with deep emotions. But not, not physical, you understand?" He nodded and she continued, "Mother and I never talked much, but she said to me once that it helped to marry a man in the Service because he was gone a lot. I think she and Apollo are a lot alike. He doesn't mind at all that Sheba's gone so much. I doubt Father cheated on Mother, I really can't imagine that. But she wouldn't have minded if he had, as long as he kept it quiet, came home when he was supposed to, and no one ever knew." She smiled at him. "Am I embarrassing you, Boomer? I forget sometimes, let my mouth run away with me."
"Not yet, you're not," he said. "But soon, I'm afraid."
"No, we can stop. It's just, you should understand that Apollo loves Sheba, in his way. He loves you more, but your relationship with him is perfect as it is. Sheba wanted more than he could give; she settled for less from him but looked elsewhere. I'm not saying they never sleep together," she added, embarrassing him after all, "only that it's probably not often and, I'll bet, not that great. So she looks elsewhere and he lets her, and she takes care of him when he does need it, because they're, well, affectionate. Fond. Used to each other. It's not a deep relationship, because she needs more from him than he can give her to sustain depth, but it's strong in its way. I quite like her now that she's accepted that she's way down his list of love, and never getting higher... well, higher, if people died, but it wouldn't mean anything. She wouldn't get more from him if she was the only one left. Once she realized that he's giving her all he has to give her, she had to decide if she could make that work or had to leave. She chose to stay. On her terms, but that's okay for both of them."
"What about Starbuck?" Boomer asked impulsively. After all, Starbuck was as close to Athena as he was to him, and if he knew, she had to.
She nodded. "He's the flip side, poor thing. He gets nothing, but it's enough."
"Nothing?" Boomer raised an eyebrow.
"Or everything," she agreed. "It depends on how you look at it, I suppose."
"And what you want," Boomer said.
Athena sighed. "I wish Starbuck was awake. Apollo's so unhappy."
"I know. But you heard Salik. Several days. Maybe a secton."
She nodded. "At least that stupid termination charge was dismissed. Is the funeral for that cadet tomorrow?"
"Yes," he said. "Everyone's going who can. Too bad Starbuck can't be there."
Zephyr, tall and stark in the simple cadets' version of the dress uniform, crossed to the lectern. She didn't have any notes, simply stood there looking out at the assemblage. When she finally spoke, her voice was firm though strained. "Clarsarc was our colonel. Not just because of his grades or his skills. Because of himself. He was an excellent academic, a fine pilot, and he'd have made a fine Warrior. But he was more. He was a good friend. A good man. We'll miss the hell out of him. Maybe me especially, because I was his second, and they're telling me I have take his place at graduation. And because he's dead because he was with me, us... you all know that."
She paused a moment, and, in the assemblage Apollo stirred slightly. They didn't need to let her feel she was responsible for this.
"But," she continued, "I know what he felt about that. He let me know before he died, he didn't put any blame on me or the Captain. He put that right where it belonged. And he let me know I was to do the same thing. It was his last order to me. 'Sarc," she turned to look at the capsule lying in state, surrounded by candles, "you don't have to worry, I know whose fault it was. I'll put the blame where it goes; you don't have to hang around and nag at me in my dreams. But I do have something to say about it, so, bear with me, 'Sarc, okay? He said you were an innocent and you had to die for the people. That innocents always have to die in order for others to be saved. I know what you would have said to that, if he'd given you the chance. You'd have said it was a bargeload of felgarcarb, though I admit you probably wouldn't have said felgarcarb... canid's kidneys, you'd have said, or something like that."
She smiled shakily over the rustle of amusement that ran through the cadets; clearly, Clarsarc's speech patterns were an old and familiar joke. She took another breath and continued, "It's not that he was a lunatic, or that your dying didn't actually save anyone." A brief expression in her eyes added, anyone worth saving. Remembering Musa and comparing him to what he'd heard of Clarsarc, Apollo couldn't disagree. "That's not what I mean. After all, you wouldn't have minded dying to save anyone else. But you wouldn't have agreed with his basic premise. Innocents don't have to die, in the sense that it's inevitable. They do die, always have, for tens of millennia. But you put on this uniform because you believed they shouldn't die. 'Sarc, we don't all have your sense of purpose or clarity of vision. But we all learned from you. We learned a lot. We will all miss you: you are a grave loss. But we will all remember you. For ever. Goodbye, Cadet-Colonel Clarsarc. We won't forget. We promise."
She saluted, right hand to her left shoulder and her chin up, though her eyes were clearly brimming. As one, the cadets rose to their feet and did the same and, a beat later, so did every Warrior in the hall. Zephyr held the salute for a full centon, and then dropped her hand and turned back to the lectern. Opening the Book that rested there, fighting tears, she began to read.
"Behold, I will show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. And then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
Apollo, only half listening to the words he'd heard far too many times, suddenly stiffened as memory assailed him. Beside him, he felt his father alerting in the same way. There was, quite abruptly, no doubt at all in his mind, or Adama's either, most likely. He could hear those same words, in a different, young grief-stricken voice trying hard to stay level and mostly winning. It wasn't anything supernatural, any inherited choice of words, these were the most ordinary of words for a funeral. It was their faltering delivery, it was the posture of the rangy young body, the angle of the head and the way the brown eyes fought back tears... it was Zac. Zac at his grandfather Lykos's funeral, struggling valiantly to stay in control and say the right things. That eulogy had been very different from the one Zeff had just given, but yes, gods yes, the giving of it was the same: the strain to say the right things to convey heartbreak without giving in to the emotion, the tension... even the feeling that he, she, was the wrong person to be doing it. Apollo had come from his ship and Adama from his, but the old man had wanted his favorite grandchild to deliver his eulogy. Zac had done his duty even though he'd wanted to be hiding somewhere crying his heart out. Apollo stared at Zeff, remembering all the other times she'd teased at his memory, and he saw now that every time it had been Zac he was being reminded of. Zac's enthusiasm, Zac's angular grace, Zac's eyes and nose. Unhampered now by the subconscious insistence can't be, she's Starbuck's it was obvious.
The rest of the funeral passed without Apollo's noticing. He lost track of his father afterwards but was sure he'd gone home. So that's where he went as soon as he could get away.
He keyed in the code and went into Adama's quarters. He didn't generally go in without being invited, but he thought he'd be expected. He thought they had something to talk about.
Like what to do about Zephyr. And how to react to Starbuck's not having told them the truth.
Especially since he couldn't get mad at Starbuck. Not now. Not now. Not when he'd so nearly lost him. Had his mortality so convincingly demonstrated. Not just a 'thought you were dead' experience, a clean, lost-to-the-war sort of thing, but a gruesome, painful, watching-you-die-hearing-you-die-smelling-you-die tactile thing that had ripped his heart out and left him with a gaping hole inside.
A, to be clichéd about it, Starbuck-shaped hole that ached with emptiness and yet...
He had nearly lost him. And was still trying to come to terms with how that made him feel.
So why did this have to come up now? He didn't have enough time to sort them both out, even without the added worry of how in the name of every god that had ever lived Bojay had gotten so bad without anyone noticing. Or how many other people had him cast as the crown prince. Or... he shook his head. It never rains but it pours, he thought and smiled as he realized that was one of those phrases the 'kids' didn't really understand. Boomer had told him Bren wanted to know why the people in an IFB show didn't just 'turn off the fire sprinklers' when they were caught in the rain...
Maybe Starbuck was right. Maybe they should stop for a while, turf all the kids outside for a giant camp-out, let them learn about weather and animals and trees...
Starbuck. It always comes back around to him. He blinked and looked around, realizing he was standing in the dark. "Father?" he called before asking for the lights.
"I'm here, Apollo." His voice came from only a couple of metrons away, in the front room.
"Father? Why are you sitting here in the dark?" Apollo made his way towards Adama.
"I've been thinking," Adama said. "Lights, one quarter."
The room turned dim, enough for Apollo to see his father in his favorite chair. He sat on the couch opposite him. "Have you come to any conclusions?"
"I'm not sure," Adama sighed. "I think so."
"Are we right?"
"Oh, I think we are. Which means we've been very wrong for almost twenty yahrens."
"He wanted us to be," Apollo pointed out.
"That doesn't change the fact that we were. I thank the Lords of Kobol we were able to behave ourselves well enough we were allowed in her life growing up."
That was so unexpected Apollo found himself unsure what to say.
"I've been thinking," Adama went on, "if Starbuck's right about her age, she's older now than your brother was when he died."
"He probably only made up the day," Apollo said. "I mean, the doctors would have told him how many sectares old she was, even if her mother didn't."
"Yes." Adama was quiet for a few centons, then said, "I have only one picture of him in uniform. Your mother had his graduation picture; I found it on Caprica." He didn't have to explain that; the last time they'd been to their house was seared into the minds of both.
Apollo thought about it, wondering why he'd never thought about it before, never noticed all his pictures of Zac were of him as a child... "No," he said finally. "I don't have one."
"Your sister has one. I never liked it."
That seemed to be all Adama was going to say, at least for the moment. After a little while, Apollo ventured, "I can't believe he didn't tell us."
"Can't you?" Adama sounded ironical. "I can... Neither of us was very complimentary, were we? Did we sound like we wanted to put Zac in Starbuck's place, with a whore?"
That was like a slap in Apollo's face. Somehow, all he'd really been thinking was, she's Zac's child. She's my niece. She's Father's granddaughter. He hadn't been thinking of her mother at all.
"Would we have been happy, nineteen yahrens ago, looking at that ill-fed, scruffy baby, at her mother, at where her mother lived and what she did, to say, 'yes, Zac was part of that'? I wouldn't have been." He paused as if he were going to say something and then shrugged. "I'm not, to tell you the truth, happy about it now, though I love Zeffie and am very glad she's here."
Apollo thought about it from that angle. He hadn't come to any real conclusion when Adama spoke again.
"I wouldn't have raised her well, either. I'd never have been able to forget what her mother was, and I'd have seen her mother in every bit of youthful high spirits. I did anyway, but she wasn't mine to correct, so I left her alone, biting my words down. I wouldn't have had she been living with me." He sighed. "Starbuck did a fine job with her."
"But," said Apollo, "if he knew she was Zac's—"
"First," his father pointed out, "we don't know that he did. We don't know what she told him. But if he did, he knew us well enough not to tell us. It was a kindness all the way around. Everyone benefitted from it."
"Everyone," he repeated.
"Maybe so," Apollo conceded. "But what do we do now?"
"Father, we can't do nothing."
"Of course we can." He stood up. "Come with me, son. I want to show you something."
Puzzled, Apollo rose and followed him into the corridor, and down to the nearest turbolift. Once they were inside, Adama turned to him and said, "You realize, Apollo, hardly anyone else can possibly guess this?"
"Zac was only on this battlestar for a few days before Cimtar. Not even long enough to have been on a patrol yet, you must remember. Many of those here never even saw him, and those who did? A handful of days after twenty yahrens—no one will think of him."
"Athena," Apollo said.
"If she hasn't already guessed it," Adama nodded, "she will. And Boomer knew him as a boy; he might. Only us four—"
"Yes. If he didn't know, he could easily. Especially since Zac followed him around like a pup, at home and again here," Adama's voice was filled with rueful amusement.
"Yes, he did, didn't he?" Apollo acknowledged that. He knew that Zac had looked up to him, but Starbuck had been... well, Starbuck had been Starbuck, and Zac had always loved him. Enough to give his daughter to him...
"So it's only us," Adama said. The doors of the turbolift hissed open and he walked out.
Apollo followed, startled to see they were outside the Life Center. Adama led the way inside, raising a quieting hand to the medtech on duty and peering into the unit where Starbuck would be, sleeping his sedated sleep and healing.
"There," Adama said, his voice satisfied but sad. "Look at that, Apollo."
Apollo looked in. Starbuck lay quietly, an IV delivering sustenance while a canula helped him breathe. His arm was still heavily bandaged, and the edges of the bruise on his face, emphasizing his pallor, showed around the bandage that still covered his eye and cheekbone. On a chair next to his pod, still wearing her dress uniform, was Zeff, who almost certainly shouldn't have been there. She was holding his hand in hers, and her head was pillowed on his shoulder, her hair spread out on them both. She was sleeping almost as soundly as he.
"Now," asked Adama. "You tell me: whose is she?"
"Yes." Adama nodded. His voice was full of regrets, but his tone was final nonetheless. "She's Starbuck's daughter." He put his hand on Apollo's shoulder. "Son," he said.
Apollo turned to look at him.
"Let's go to the Officers' Club and buy each other some drinks."
Apollo smiled. "Sir," he said, "that sounds like a wonderful idea."
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Starbuck woke up and opened his eyes. Everything seemed bright and fuzzy, but he didn't hurt. That was nice. In fact it was reassuring: he must not have gone to perdition after all. All the hells were supposed to hurt. Hah, he thought, shows what you knew... He couldn't remember her name, the Orphanage worker who'd repeatedly assured him he was destined for the second or third hell at least and without fail. Didn't matter. She'd been wrong. He was apparently in the Land of Light. Too much light, if you could say that. He blinked against it and things started to come into focus.
The Land of Light looked a lot like a Life Center.
That seemed wrong.
He blinked again. No doubt that Zeff would end up in the Land of Light, and probably have enough clout to drag him along, but she wasn't supposed to be dead.
"Daddy?" That sounded happy. A little worried, maybe, but happy.
Maybe... maybe he wasn't dead. He swallowed and said, "Zeff?"
He couldn't hear the word, but she squealed with delight right in his ear and he knew for a fact he was alive. "Dr. Salik! Dr. Cassie! Somebody! He's awake!" She leaned over into his field of vision and said, "Daddy?" Her hair was a mess and she'd been sleeping in her uniform, and not long enough from the bruised look to her eyes, but she looked well. And alive. "Daddy," she said, touching his face as gently as if she thought he'd break, and echoed his thoughts. "You're awake. You're finally awake."
Now he recognized the source of the fuzzy well-being: he didn't hurt because he had enough coda pumped into him to knock out an equinus. Which meant Bojay had probably had lots of fun—"Are you all right?" he asked, and this time he managed to say it out loud.
"I'm fine," she said, blinking away tears from the big brown eyes he'd thought never to see again. "What about you? How do you feel?"
"Oh, fine," he said. "I expect I shouldn't—"
"Hah," said Salik, leaning over. That ironical glint was in his eye, and that alone made Starbuck feel better. He couldn't be dying; Salik wouldn't have been that happy. "You certainly should feel fine, with all the coda we've been running into you over the past seven days. I tend to forget how well you react to it; maybe we should cut the dosage down."
"You know," Starbuck said, discovering that somehow he'd gotten hold of Zeffie's hand and tightening his grip on it, "I think that's probably not a good idea. For one thing, I'm thinking it's probably only the coda which is stopping me from making a grab for you and asking what's wrong with my eyes."
"Nothing's wrong with your eyes, plural," said Salik. "Your left eye is perfectly fine, though probably a bit drug-hazed I'll concede. Your right eye, that's a different story. At the moment, it's bandaged, which is why it's not open—"
"He kicked me," Starbuck remembered.
"Yes, he did," Salik said. "You remember that? Remember why?"
"I was rude," Starbuck said. "Wanted to get his attention." He swallowed. "I guess it worked."
"Uhmh," said Salik. "It would seem so... you're not going to lose it, Starbuck. It'll even work at least pretty well. You might have some difficulty with quickly changing focal points, possibly a tiny blind spot or two you will quickly stop noticing. After all, we all have blind spots already, where the optic nerve actually connects to the eye, and nobody notices them. Wonderful things, brains..."
"But?" Salik repeated.
"Come on, doctor, I've heard that tone before. It'll work pretty well, but—?"
"But maybe not well enough for you to risk your life in combat on it."
"Okay," Starbuck said after a moment. "I can live with that."
Salik raised an eyebrow at him.
Starbuck grinned. "I never expected to wake up. Now you tell me the price is just not flying combat any more? Zeff's alive, I'm alive, Bojay's not, I hope?"
"He's dead," Zeff said, a savage satisfaction in her voice. "He's very dead."
"Then I can live with the price. I'm not that selfish." He closed his eye for a micron, then opened it again. "Everything else still works?"
Salik laughed. "Yes, Starbuck. Everything else still works. Except maybe a slight problem with your left hand, and a weather knee."
"Weather knee?" Starbuck laughed. That hurt a little bit. Note to self: don't laugh just yet. "That's not exactly a problem out here. What about my hand? It seems to be working." He tightened his grip on Zeff's again.
"You had some damage to the tendons," Salik said. "I think we pretty much fixed it, but let me check. Here, girl, go around and hold the other one."
She did, and Salik ran him through those "push hard, don't let me move your hand, bend your fingers, try to straighten them" exercises. "A little weakness," was his verdict, "but nothing exercise won't cure."
Starbuck proved him right by running the fingers of it through Zeffie's hair, snagging on a few tangles. "You're a mess," he observed. "In my day cadets didn't walk around looking this unkempt."
"Sorry, sir," she said. "I've been a little distracted."
"Well, I'll let you off this time—did you say seven days?" he demanded suddenly of Salik.
It was Zeffie who answered. "You were sedated for five and then you wouldn't wake up for two more, Dad. We were starting to get really worried. Aunt 'Theni said you were just lazy, and Uncle Apollo said you always did sleep too much—"
"Lies," he said, brushing the back of his hand against her cheek. "And they're supposed to be my friends."
"We were all getting worried," she said again. "But it's okay now, isn't it?" She looked up at Salik.
Who nodded. "He'll be fine. I told you that already. In fact, you can get out of my Life Center in a couple of days, though you're not going back on duty for at least a sectare."
"A sectare?" Starbuck protested. "I'll miss graduat—" Another memory suddenly surfaced. He felt his hand clench on Zeff's. "Oh, gods," he said softly. "That rodent killed Clarsarc. Didn't he?"
Zeffie nodded. Her eyes teared up. "He did. You missed the funeral, Dad. I'm sorry. I know he would have wanted you there."
"Would he?" Starbuck asked somberly, remembering Bojay's insane ravings about needing an innocent to somehow complement Starbuck's death.
"Yes," she said firmly. "He didn't blame us. Either of us. He blamed Bojay. Only him. He really did, Dad. He told me and he meant it. You know him..." she swallowed as she heard the verb tense.
"Yes," he echoed her. "I did. I wish I had been there."
"He knows that," she said. "Wherever he is. And he's glad you didn't come to meet him."
"We all are," Salik broke into that with the ease of a man used to emotional displays that he didn't want to continue. "But, do you remember what I said to you, Cadet? You're not my patient at the moment, but if you don't take care of yourself, you will be. So, now that he's awake and you've satisfied yourself that there have not, unfortunately, been any lasting mental changes—"
"Hey," Starbuck protested, pro forma.
"—you will now take yourself to the cadet barracks, where you will eat and shower and get at least eight centares of sleep. After which you may come back here."
"Yes, sir," she said. She bent down and kissed Starbuck on his cheek. "Good night, Dad. See you tomorrow."
"Listen to him," Starbuck said. "I want you looking rested tomorrow."
"Yes, Dad," she rolled her eyes at him exaggeratedly.
"Now," said Salik, after she'd gone. "How are you feeling? Up to another visitor? Because Sub-Colonel Apollo has been driving me insane. And he looks worse than her."
"Apollo?" Starbuck's heart lifted. "I feel fine."
"Well, don't worry. I'll run him out before you can get tired."
"Tired, doc?" Starbuck said. "I've been asleep for seven days. How tired can I get?"
"Your body's been working very hard, Starbuck," said Salik. "You'll find out how tired you can get. Believe me. Plenty."
He left. Starbuck contemplated the ceiling for a few centons, and then he heard the familiar voice. "Starbuck?"
"Hey, Apollo," he said breezily. "I guess you were right. Bojay did hate me."
Apollo leaned over the pod, his green eyes filled with unshed tears. He reached down for Starbuck's hand and held it in his. "You had us really worried, Bucko," he said softly.
"Didn't mean to," he said, feeling the strength in Apollo's hand. "He just jumped us—"
"Don't," Apollo said. "Zeff and Musa already told us everything."
"Musa? Huh," Starbuck said. "You know, he'd slipped my mind."
"Well, Zeff wasn't very complimentary about him."
"I'll bet. What happened?" Starbuck asked. "Did she get a call out?"
"A call? Salik didn't tell you?"
"She got a call off, all right. After she fried Bojay."
"Zeff? Zeff killed Bojay?" Pride warred with worry.
"Absolutely," said Apollo. "You've got one tough daughter there, Bucko. She's going to make a helluva Warrior. Just like her old man."
Starbuck looked into Apollo's eyes. "You know?"
Apollo blinked, then said, "She does look like him. But I meant you. You're the one who raised her—and maybe sometime we'll talk about it, but I think you were right, for what it's worth—"
"It's worth a lot," Starbuck said, squeezing Apollo's hand.
Apollo nodded. "And so does my father, for that matter. He came to that conclusion before I did, in fact. So let's not waste time talking about it now. 'Cause it doesn't matter."
"Okay," Starbuck was willing to let it go.
"What does matter is that you're going to be okay." He raised Starbuck's hand and rested his cheek against the back of it. "No joke, Bucko. I was scared to death when I got down there."
What he could remember of the assault was not something he'd have wanted anybody to see. He'd already been wishing like hell Zeff hadn't; now he had to add Apollo. "Well, it's okay now, 'Pol," he said. "Salik tells me I'm gonna be just fine. As long as the Council doesn't consider me a corrupting influence, I can keep on teaching. You don't need perfect eyes for that."
Apollo closed his own eyes for a minute. He was struggling with something, Starbuck could tell. But before he could decide whether to say it or not, Salik came in. "All right, Apollo. Time's up. Say goodnight. You can come back tomorrow afternoon."
"Of course." Apollo straightened up immediately; he must have been scared, Starbuck reflected, to give up so easily. "You rest, Starbuck. If you want to go to graduation—"
"You'll do what I tell you," Salik said with satisfaction. "Say goodnight, Apollo."
"Goodnight, Apollo," they said in unison, and laughed as Salik made shooing motions. "I'll see you tomorrow, Starbuck," Apollo added and left.
And Starbuck discovered just how tired he was.
When Salik was ready to let Starbuck out, Zeff was there to take him home.
"Zeffie," he said, "I'm capable of walking home. That's why they're letting me out of here."
"I know," she said. "I'm not letting you out of my sight, anyway. You'll just have to put up with me for a while."
"Aren't you supposed to be in the barracks?" he asked, out of form more than reluctance to have her around.
"The colonel said I could have a pass as long as I got to my classes. It's less than a sectare, after all," she said serenely. Evidently she could read him well enough to know how he really felt. "I know you're all right, I just... worry."
"Well, then," he said. "Carry my kit bag."
"Idiot," she responded, picking it up from the tableside.
"Don't talk to your superior officer that way," he said, grinning back at her.
"Yes, sir, sorry, sir," she said, pushing the door open for him. "After you, sir."
Salik looked up as they went past. "Don't forget that appointment in the morning, Captain Starbuck," he said.
"I won't," he said, though he would have if he'd thought he could get away with it. Counselors were not his favorite people.
"I thought I'd cook tonight," Zeff said as he joined her.
"I could get used to that."
"Oh, gods, I hate it when you do that."
"What?" he was puzzled.
"I don't know whether to say 'don't', or 'that's the plan'..."
"Say 'em both," he advised. "Spread confusion wherever you go."
"Nice life plan, Dad. But at least you practice what you preach."
"Now," said Tigh, looking around the senior staff meeting, "Dr. Salik has submitted his final report on Captain Starbuck's physical condition. In his opinion, although he's released him, there's enough of a vision problem to make Starbuck a risk in combat."
"How much of a risk?" Adama asked.
"Well, sir, it's complicated."
"It always is, with Starbuck," Adama said amusedly. "How so this time?"
"He's actually well within standards. The problem is, he used to have phenomenal hand-eye coordination. You know that: he gets 97% in the simulators on a bad day, with a hangover. Now he's down to around 80 or 82, which is certainly good, but not when he has thirty years of learning that he's nearly perfect. He'll get himself or someone else killed, not because he's not good enough, because he won't be able to adjust to being 'good enough'."
"Only Starbuck...," said Adama. The others nodded. "So, you feel he should be pulled from combat duty, Colonel?"
"I do. With some reluctance, but I do."
Apollo had expected that. He knew Starbuck did, too. At least Starbuck seemed resigned to it, if he could stay on at the academy—no meaningless desk-jobs for him, and he wasn't ready to cross-train into ops, he'd said. Not at his age... But Salik saw no reason he couldn't do that. So he asked, "What about staying on as flight instructor? I'm assuming you see no reason at all he can't stay on in the classroom."
"Frankly," said Tigh, "this is a case of 'it's an ill wind that blows nobody good'. I've been wondering for the last half yahren if Starbuck could be convinced to become commandant of the academy."
"Starbuck? Commandant?" Apollo said involuntarily.
"Nobody's suggesting he teach engineering," Tigh said with a slight smile. "The commandant doesn't teach much, anyway, though I expect he'll insist on senior-level tactics as well as flight. And he ought to, as far as that goes; he's good at it. But I'm too busy to pay attention to the day-to-day stuff at the academy and I'm damned if I want my OPSO doing it, either."
Omega smiled. Obviously, he too didn't want himself to be stuck with it.
"Somebody should be appointed commandant. Starbuck would have been my choice as it was; now, if he's not cleared for combat, it seems perfect."
"I agree," said Adama. "We'll put it to the Council."
"Some of them may—" Tigh began.
"Some may," Adama nodded. "But now is much too soon for any of them to want to admit it. And once it's done, it's done. They can complain all they want, after the fact." He glanced at Apollo and Omega. "I presume that you two agree?"
"Oh, yes, sir," said Omega.
"Then we offer him the position. Subordinate to me," said Tigh, "and a half step laterally down from the sub-colonel ranks."
"I concur," said Adama.
"Then," said Tigh, "as soon as he's cleared for duty by the psych branch, he'll take over. He can preside at this year's commencement, in fact."
Apollo grinned to himself. That should make Starbuck happy, and it was no less than he deserved. He shouldn't have any trouble with the psychiatrist.
Starbuck and the counselor sat on opposite sides of the desk and stared at each other. "I don't think I understand what the problem is," he said.
"The problem is, Captain, that you're giving me text-book answers."
Starbuck looked at her with what he knew was his best earnest expression. "Doesn't that mean I'm normal?"
"What it means, in my opinion, is that you've got access to a text book." She gave him a level look. After a moment, she said, "Captain, I've not only got the high cards, I'm the dealer. You have to play the game my way if you're going to play."
He appreciated her effort at the metaphor, so he didn't point out the flaws in it. He just attacked the premise. "What if I don't want to play?"
"Then you can leave the table," she said. "But you won't put on that uniform again." She sighed. "Captain, I don't like threats. They sound foolish in the daylight, or what passes for it. But the fact is, you aren't going back on duty until I'm satisfied. And if you don't cooperate in the process, I can't be satisfied."
Starbuck leaned back in the chair, using body language as effectively as she did. "The fact is," he echoed her, "that I just don't have a very high opinion of the whole counselling process."
"Because you choose very carefully who you show yourself to," she said rather than asked.
"And no offense, counselor, but I didn't choose you."
"Part of the whole process is precisely that. I'm not uninterested, but I'm uninvolved. Disinterested. When I let you go, you never have to talk with me again. I'm someone safe you can tell things to."
He let that lie between them for a centon, then said, "Well, part of my problem with the process is that I don't see the point in telling things to anyone. No offense, but I've had counselors chat with me before. They didn't solve my problems then. And I don't need my emotions validated. And, no offense—"
"That works once," she observed.
"Saying 'no offense' and then being offensive," she said calmly. "It works once."
"Okay," he conceded, "offense intended: my already not very high opinion of the process doesn't get any better when a raving lunatic like Bojay can get so far round the bend he's not even visible, and nobody notices."
It was her turn to be quiet, which she was for a few centons. Then she said, "I saw in your records that you had a brief period of post-traumatic counselling as a child. They note you were disassociated and suffering from probable post-traumatic stress and amnesia. They note you should have had follow-up therapy but what with one thing and another, including your apparently autonomous return to functionality, it didn't happen. I expect it wasn't a pleasant experience. But it's not analogous to this."
He just raised an eyebrow and waited.
"I don't want to solve your problems; I want to make sure you know what they are and that you're dealing with them. I don't want to validate your emotions—for one thing, that would be presumptuous of me—but I do want to know what they are and if they're likely to cause problems for you or others down the road. Captain," she paused and then changed whatever she'd been going to say. "If Bojay had been sitting in that chair, I have every confidence I'd have diagnosed him as, as you say, a raving lunatic. But he never was. And it's not fair for you to fault us for not catching something we never looked at, or to imply that because we didn't see problems in a person we never spoke to that we can't see problems in you if they're there. Nor is it fair for you to say that we shouldn't talk to someone who's undergone events which we know can cause trouble because we didn't talk to someone who developed trouble on his own." She sighed. "Captain, I don't know if you need any help or not. What I do know is that it's my job to find out. And that if you don't let me find out—and I freely admit, you can sit there and lie so well I'll never know—than I can't square it with my conscience to let you go back to duty."
They regarded each other in silence for some centons. Finally he said, "Fair enough. Is this the worst thing that ever happened to me? Not by a long shot. Do I hate it? You bet. Do I wish my eyes were good enough to stay in combat? Yes, I do; but I like teaching, and I'll like my new job, and Zeff's a lot happier, which is good. And speaking of her, do I wish my daughter hadn't been involved? Oh, yeah. Do I hate Bojay's guts? There's no word strong enough. Did listening to his ravings undermine my faith? Hard to undermine what wasn't there. Do I feel guilty about Clarsarc? Yes, but I know intellectually that it wasn't my fault, and I'll get over it without doing anything drastic. After all, I've gotten over deaths that were my fault, thank you very much, and I'm still here. Did getting raped affect my sense of masculinity or something? Not that I've made a point of broadcasting this, but he's not the first guy I ever took up the astrum and I've always felt pretty masculine. He is the first guy who wanted to kill me afterwards, or anyway the first one who tried, but people have been trying to kill me my whole life—literally—and I've gotten used to it. Did I miss anything?"
She had lifted an eyebrow halfway through. Now she said, "Sarcasm, distancing, anger, and inappropriate humor: sounds like you're normal, Captain. Or at least it sounds like you're still you. Are you in a relationship now?"
"No," he said. "Not for a few sectares before... And I really doubt I'll take up with anyone who reminds me of Bojay."
"You would need heavy-duty counselling if you were inclined to do that," she agreed. "You might have problems, though I tend to doubt it, given the circumstances. If you do—"
"Get counselling. Right," he said, doubting that he sounded sincere.
It didn't faze her. "One more question: what makes you the angriest?"
He didn't hesitate. "That Zeff had to kill him."
"Ah. Why? That she was there, or that she killed, or that you didn't protect her?"
"All of them," he said after a moment's thought. "The last—I'm her father. I'm supposed to keep her safe, and if I had, she wouldn't have been there and she wouldn't have had to kill. Even a piece of scum like that."
"You raised a strong woman," she observed.
"And I'm damned proud of her," he answered. "She did good. And did it well. That doesn't mean I'm glad it came to that."
She looked at him again, and nodded. "Okay, Captain. I'm not saying you're fine and dandy—that would be pretty abnormal. But you're okay. You're probably going to find a lot of anger surfacing over the next few sectares. My suggestion on how to deal with that—"
He braced himself for some felgarcarb about meditation or talking things out.
"—hit the target range with a nice computer-generated target of Bojay. Atavistic, perhaps, but cathartic. Which is what you're going to need. And you know where my door is if you want to come and be blunt to someone who won't hit you."
"Captain, I could put you in therapy for the next ten yahrens and barely scratch the surface. You know that as well as I do. But there's no point. You're a fully integrated and functioning person, who's come to your own terms with your problems. That's pretty much the goal of counselling. We don't get rid of problems, not real-world problems at any rate. We can't travel in time and undo the things that have happened. We only teach people how to control their reactions to them, instead of being controlled by them. You already do that." She shrugged. "And you don't want therapy which means it wouldn't work anyway. Go on. Get back to your life and keep on enjoying it as much as possible."
He quirked an eyebrow at her. "You going to give me a certificate that says I'm sane?"
She laughed. "And have my credentials revoked? No. But I will sign off on you as fit for duty."
He stood up, grinning. "That'll be enough in some quarters to make them wonder about you."
"Fit as you ever were, then," she said, and stood up, offering him her hand. "Take care, Captain. Don't lose my office number."
Starbuck put the dessert tray on the table and sat down rather quickly. "Damn," he said, mildly, massaging his knee.
"Are you okay?" Apollo said worriedly, and Athena echoed,
"Did you hurt yourself?"
He looked up at them, all three—though Omega hadn't spoken—looking back at him with concerned eyes. "I'm fine," he said.
"Yeah, that sounded like you're fine, Starbuck," Apollo reproved him. "Don't shade the truth. What's wrong?"
He should have known better than to let all three of them into his quarters at once, especially at the end of the day when everything that could hurt did. He sighed. "I'm fine," he repeated. "My knee hurts, but Salik says it will until it doesn't. There's nothing wrong with it, I just have to keep using it. He's such a helpful man," he added.
Apollo peered at him closely, then apparently decided he was telling the truth. "That's doctors for you," he said.
"He's better than Cassie," Starbuck admitted.
"Oh? She has a different opinion?" asked Athena.
"No. She just expresses herself differently..." He realized he'd have to tell them so he did without being asked. "She just says, 'Oh, don't be such a baby, Starbuck.'"
"And you're supposed to be my friends," he complained.
"Don't worry," Zeff said, bringing in the dessert plates and glasses. "I don't let him do too much. But he's right; he has to exercise it or it will stiffen up on him. A gimpy Commandant is such a cliché, too; we can't let it happen."
"She gets on me, all right," Starbuck said. "She's more mother gally than you ever were, 'Pol."
"Gods forbid," said Athena, clearly remembering some past incidents of her own.
"Some people," Apollo said, on his dignity, "need to be chased after."
"Oh?" Zeff sat down and looked at him expectantly. "Tell, Uncle Apollo."
"Don't you dare," Athena and Starbuck said almost in unison, Athena adding, "Don't forget who grew up with you!"
"Some other time, Zeff," he mock-whispered.
"Surely you're not afraid of a mere Captain and Commandant, Sub-Colonel?" Zeff pretended disappointment.
"Mere Commandant?" asked Omega. "You need to work on your image, Starbuck. I was at CMA during the infamous 'Yahren of Three Commandants' and not one of them could have been described as 'mere'."
That successfully redirected the conversation, though Starbuck wasn't sure who Omega had just rescued. But later, he overheard Athena and Zeff in the service room, they having refused to allow the men in there to help—"Starbuck, you need to stay off that knee, and you two are more trouble than you're worth".
"Zeff," Athena asked seriously, "how's your father doing, really?"
"He's fine, really," Zeff answered. Starbuck couldn't see Athena's expression, but Zeff sighed and said, "Really. His eye hardly bothers him at all anymore, and his knee just hurts at the end of the day. We put heat on it and it's fine in the mornings."
"What about... Does he have nightmares?"
"Not so much," Zeff said. "I just do what I've always done: wake him up. We're fine, Aunt Athena. Really: we're seriously fine."
"You two," Athena gave it up.
And Starbuck smiled to himself. Exactly... us two, we're seriously fine.
Starbuck opened the door. Apollo stood there, looking the tiniest bit wary, like he had bad news to break. Or maybe had gotten bad news. "Come in," Starbuck said. "What's up?"
"I have something to tell you," Apollo said, portentously.
Starbuck shut the door, narrowing his eyes at Apollo's back as the other man went on into the front room. Apollo seemed to have been drinking. Not much, but by himself, any was unusual for Apollo. Starbuck was the one who'd kept a bottle in his locker. In the old days. "What's that?" he asked, keeping his tone casual.
"Sit down." Apollo pointed at the couch.
Apollo stood in front of him, blinking as he put his thoughts together. Starbuck recognized this mood, if not the cause of it. Apollo had come to some huge decision but he wasn't at all sure how anybody else was going to react. He waited; Apollo intended to tell him and that meant he would. As soon as he decided how to start, which was where Apollo and he parted company. Apollo never knew how to lead in to what he'd planned to say; Starbuck always knew how to introduce a topic but just went on reactions from there.
"You keep almost dying," Apollo said abruptly.
"I don't mean to," Starbuck said, defensively in spite of how ridiculous it was.
"But you do. And it scares me. I can't take it happening again. All I could think, over and over, was: don't take him away. Don't make me lose him. I can't live without him..."
"Apollo," Starbuck said, swallowing hard. "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere—"
"No, let me finish. Please... Starbuck, I love you. I..." he took a deep breath and sat on the couch, an arm's reach away. "I want to make love to you. With you. Love me."
"Apollo..." Starbuck was shaken by the offer. He wanted nothing so much as to take him up on it, now, before he could change his mind. Before he thought about it one more centon. Before he remembered Sheba, Adama, Djan... But Starbuck could see one thing so clearly that everything else was pale: Apollo was scared stiff of what he was offering. And though Starbuck knew he could pleasure the other man, make him cry out with need and desire, he also knew that Apollo wasn't ready, would probably never be ready, to return the favor, so to speak. And that would never do. While Starbuck could look forward to the prospect of another eighty or even hundred yahrens of Apollo in his arms, filling him, fulfilling him, and know that he'd be satisfied in all ways with Apollo's hands... it wouldn't be enough because Apollo wouldn't be able to believe it was enough. And it would never be more.
Starbuck took a deep breath, bringing himself back under control. Love for the man next to him, waiting with pleading, apprehensive green eyes fixed unblinkingly on him, filled him and made it easy to say what had to be said. "No."
"No," he said, again, as gently as he could. "Apollo, you don't want to, so I don't—"
"I do," Apollo insisted. He slid closer, put his hand on Starbuck's thigh just above his knee. "I do."
"Here you do," Starbuck nodded, touching the dark temple lightly, then moving his hand to Apollo's chest. "And here. But here—" he laid the back of his hand on Apollo's stomach, feeling the dark-haired man flinch, just for a moment. It was sufficient to convince them both. Starbuck smiled at him, gently. "Here, you don't. Look at you, Apollo. Feel yourself: man, every nerve in your body is singing with tension. You're having to fight so hard just to stay still... I love you, Apollo. I always have. I don't want you like this..." He laughed, suddenly; Apollo stared at him in bewilderment. "Remember you once told me you loved me, but not 'like that'? I love you, but not like this."
"Starbuck," Apollo swallowed. "I do love you—"
"But you don't want me," Starbuck said. "It's all right, Apollo. It's always been all right. Don't you understand that? All—all—right."
"I'm so sorry, Starbuck."
"Don't be." He regarded his friend, the best friend he could ever have possibly had in any lifetime. "Don't be. Come here." He opened his arms. Apollo hesitated a moment, then leaned against his shoulder. Starbuck held him, tenderly, asking nothing but the right to comfort. "Shh," he whispered, resting his cheek on Apollo's hair, "it's all right. Be easy, love. Nothing's going to happen. We're safe. We're here. It's all right."
Apollo's rigid muscles relaxed, so slowly. He sighed deeply and his fingers crept up to take hold of Starbuck's shirt. "I do love you," he said.
"I know. I have always known," Starbuck answered. "You here is enough, and enough is as good as a feast. Just let me listen to your breathing and feel your heartbeat. Just be here."
"Now," Starbuck cut him off. He wanted no promises Apollo might not be able to keep, nothing hanging over them. "Now is all the time there is. It's always now. And so we're always together. It's enough."
"It is. It's more than enough. Shhh. Don't talk any more. Just be."
Apollo sighed again and was quiet. Soon his breathing evened out and his fingers slipped to Starbuck's lap. Starbuck sat there, holding him as he slept.
Starbuck checked himself out in the mirror. After a moment's scrutiny, he raised his left hand and slid his fingers very carefully through his hair, altering its fall by a couple of millimetrics. Perfect. The faint scar on his right cheek added an air of mystery, he decided. Dashingness.
"You look good enough to eat, Dad. Can I get in here for a centon?" Zeff had never actually moved back into the cadet barracks, and nobody had even called her on it in the sectare since the 'incident', as it was now being called, on Clarsarc's World.
Starbuck certainly didn't mind having her back. If she wanted her own quarters in the future, he'd let go of her, of course, but as far as he was concerned she could live with him as long as she wanted. He liked having someone else around, always had, and he loved having her there. "Sure," he said, stepping out of her way and looking her over. "You're not wearing the right rank insignia," he observed after a moment.
"They're just going to take them off and give me ensign's pins," she said defensively. "What difference does it make?"
He paused before answering, remembering talking with Apollo a couple of nights earlier, sitting up with grogs and watching Triad on IFB. "Zeff seems pretty upset about that cadet who was killed," Apollo had said. "Were they, well... you know. An item?"
He'd grinned involuntarily at Apollo's word choice, then answered quietly. "No. She liked him very much and they hung out together, studied together, but they weren't in love, thank the gods. Going through that with a friend has been hard enough; losing a lover that way..."
"Losing someone you love is always hard, no matter how," Apollo had said somberly. Starbuck had put his arm around him for the rest of the match...
Now he looked at Zeffie and said, seriously, "It matters because you're not a cadet-captain. You're the cadet-colonel. That's who you are."
She dropped her eyes. He put his fingers under her chin and raised it, though she was the same height as he and their eyes were level. When she finally looked at him he said, "One of the hardest things you'll ever have to learn about being a Warrior—something we can't teach you—is that people die. Oh," he read the protest in her look, "I know you know that. Here." He tapped her head, remembering briefly doing the same thing with Apollo a secton earlier. "But you have to learn it here," he touched her breastbone. "Inside. Down in your bones. And you have to understand what it means. Because the Service doesn't always, even often, give you the time you need to mourn your dead and make your peace with their loss. The Service is a demanding, needy thing, sweetheart, and one of its needs is that you keep going. The mission has to be accomplished. Somebody has to move up and take over. A Squadron Leader dies and the XO takes his place. A regimental commander is taken out, and the battalion major moves up. It's what happens. It's what has to happen. Because the chain of command must always, always remain unbroken. The man is missed, but the position is filled." He ran his fingers through her hair and then undid one of the captain's pins. "You'll do him more honor doing your duty, Zeff."
She nodded and, taking the pin from his hand, went back into her sleeping room. When she emerged, she was wearing the colonel's pins.
"That's my girl," he said—it was his ultimate accolade and had been since she, at ten, had told Athena (who'd told him) that nothing made her feel prouder of herself. "Let's go get you graduated, then."
"Yes, sir, commandant, sir," she said and, contrary to all regulations, put her arm around his waist. He gave in to the flagrant breach of protocol and walked to the turbolift with his arm around her shoulders.
In the lift he leaned against the wall and looked at her. "In case I haven't said it yet, I'm so proud of you I can't see straight."
She smiled radiantly at him. "You have—but thanks anyway." She ducked her head, her red hair covering her blushing face briefly. "I can't hear it enough. And, in case I haven't said it recently—thanks for, well, being you."
"It's been my pleasure," he said gravely and sincerely, and then, because he was him, added, "and everyone else's too."
She laughed. "I do love you so much, Dad. I mean it: thanks for, for, well, for keeping me around."
"Hey," he reproved her. "If ever virtue was its own reward, Zeff... I don't know what I'd have done, or where I'd be, without you."
She hugged him, letting go only when the door opened. "Come on," she said. "I know they can't start without us but we shouldn't keep them waiting."
"They'll never have anything better to do," he grinned.
"Come on, you two," said Apollo impatiently; he was waiting outside the Hall entrance. "Bucko, I can't believe you're making her as unpunctual as you."
"House of Starbuck time, sir," she laughed, ducking in the door. "The Fleet should run on it."
Apollo watched her disappear into the Hall. When he turned his eyes were unreadable. "House of Starbuck?"
"Has a nice ring to it," Starbuck said, half tentatively. He figured that someday soon, once Apollo's emotions had settled, the whole Zac thing was going to need discussing, even though Apollo said he understood. But not today, he hoped.
Apollo looked at him and his eyes warmed, quite suddenly, and he smiled. "That it does," he agreed. "That it certainly does."
Starbuck said goodbye to Adama and went back into the front room, where he settled on the couch and swung his legs up to rest his booted feet on the low kava table. He looked around the room, very pleased and still mildly surprised at how many people were here. The party on the Rising Star had been pretty much what he'd expected (and enough to bankrupt a new flight officer so of course he'd had to kick in half the cost); it was the number of people who'd come back with them he found surprising. Nearly all of Zeff's squadron, including her squadron leader, Giles, who was in a corner of the room talking to Sheba; all of the other squadron leaders, excepting only Dietra whose Gold was on duty; a handful of other pilots, including Jolly, Greenbean, and Djan, who was talking to a curvaceous blonde civilian he'd brought in the first place, whose name Starbuck wasn't sure he'd ever heard but expected to become familiar with pretty soon by the look on Djan's face; Keili and Scotti, Rounder, Gillian, Marco...
And there were non-pilots, too, like Cassie, who was giving Boomer an 'it's-time-we-went' look which he was managing to ignore. Tigh, sipping his second drink of the evening and watching from his usual one-step-removed. Salik, jovial and almost proprietary and startling whoops of laughter out of Brie. Jenny, definitely proprietary. And of course Athena and Omega, sitting respectively in and on the arm of Starbuck's favorite chair, their dark heads bent together as she told him something that, judging by the way his eyes kept cutting over to his host, was probably damaging to Starbuck's dignity... assuming he still had any in 'Theni's husband's eyes, not that safe an assumption. And Adama, of course, though he'd pled old age and left. Old age... hah. Starbuck hoped he had half the commander's stamina at a hundred and forty.
And, of course, on the couch next to him, looking (Starbuck knew without seeing it) disapprovingly at his feet up on the table, Apollo. That familiar presence at his side... more than half his life now. If he made it to that hundred and forty, it would be for more than six sevenths of his life. He smiled and dug his shoulders into the cushions. For a kid with no background, he'd landed on his feet pretty nicely. Friends. Family... he looked around the room but couldn't see the guest of honor.
"What are you thinking, Bucko?" Apollo asked.
"How lucky I am," he answered, then, "and where's my daughter and who's she with?"
Apollo grinned. "Boys are easier on the heart."
Starbuck looked at him. "My heart can take it, 'Pol."
Apollo returned his gaze, seriously, then reached out and pulled him into a quick hug. "Love you," he said softly and then let go.
"I know," Starbuck said, straightening a rank pin on Apollo's shirt. He looked up to catch those green eyes fixed on his scarred wrist. He smiled. "You worry too much."
"And you never grew up," Apollo managed.
Starbuck grinned. "It's part of my charm."
"Vanity, thy name is Starbuck."
"Maybe, but it's not bragging if it's true."
Apollo laughed, the shadows leaving his eyes. "Oh, yes, it is. It's just not exaggerating."
"Whatever." Starbuck, feeling good, leaned back against the couch and looked around the room again.
Zephyr appeared out of nowhere and perched on the back of the couch next to his shoulder. "You look mighty pleased with yourself, Dad," she observed. "What are you thinking about?"
He looked up at her, her dark red hair tumbling around her face and across her shoulders, her new flight officer's pins shining almost as brightly as her eyes. "Truthfully?" he said. "The first time I ever saw you."
"Yeah?" She smiled in delight.
"Yeah," he answered. "Almost twenty-two yahrens ago now. Over on the Star, and you were no longer than my arm, elbow to fingers, and your hair was all wispy. I picked you up and you smiled at me and I said, 'hi, darling' and you said 'goo', or maybe it was 'ga', and laughed and grabbed my finger. And my heart. And you haven't let go yet."
She looked down at him with that familiar mixture of love and laughter in her big brown eyes and he felt the same rush of emotions he'd felt that day so long ago. "Now why," she asked with patented Starbuck levity-on-top-of-truth, "why would I ever want to do that?"
He reached an arm up and hugged her. "You know, Flight Officer, you're the best damned thing that ever happened to me."
"Ditto," she said, hugging him back, hard. "In purple." She rested her head on his. "I love you, Dad."
"Back at you, Zeffie," he said as she caught his hand in hers and held it as tight as she'd held his finger back then. He looked up and met her gaze. "I love you, daughter."
And they sat for a centon, alone in the crowded room.
But not alone. Never alone. Together.