When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Starbuck and Cassie put an end to the rumors swirling around the battlestar by announcing that they were promised, and they did it in true Starbuckian fashion. A bit defiantly, he climbed on a table in the O Club and rang a fork against a crystal (or at least a reasonable facsimile of crystal) glass until everyone shut up and looked at him. "Listen up! I've got something to say and it'll go better if you all have a glass of nectar in your hands when I say it, so," he gestured, "on me."
When the crowd had all settled back into their places with a glass of Aquarian celebration nectar (or a reasonable facsimile) and their expressions attentive, Starbuck said, "Cassiopeia." His voice caressed the word and the hush filled with that feeling of a good excuse to party and Boomer, standing at Apollo's shoulder, murmurred just loud enough to be heard, "I don't believe it." Apollo did. He listened in silent despair (too late, too late) as Starbuck continued. He didn't even hear the words, just saw the look on Starbuck's face (was he not as happy as he should be?) as he lifted a glass to her, and on hers (she doesn't deserve him!)(but she wants him) as she smiled back and took his hand to join him on the table, their arms linked as they drank, nectar with their mouths and each other with their eyes. And then people cheered, and applauded, and came crowding around to offer congratulations to them, once they'd gotten down (Cassie in his hands, light as the proverbial feather).
Boomer went, over his disbelief, and smiling. The rest of Blue Squadron, those who were there, went, backslapping or hugging depending on their gender. As was usual with these occasions, Apollo noticed distantly, some couples were standing closer together—Bojay's hand on Dietra's shoulder as she stood in front of him, Robin close enough to Giles to touch but just not—and some were pulling apart—Jolly evading Brie's determined pursuit, Greenbean and Phyllia avoiding each other's eyes. And himself, avoiding Starbuck, evading Sheba... he did manage to grab Starbuck's hand and say "Congratulations" and kiss Cassie's cheek briefly before he couldn't bear it any longer.
He escaped into the corridor and started walking before he'd really decided where he was going. His father... no. Not him. Adama would be pleased for Starbuck and not receptive to Apollo's not being, and if he told him why... oh, gods. At best Adama would be even unhappier than he was and at worst he'd be upset with Apollo.
And not Athena. She'd only say she'd told him so and even if she didn't, she had. And she'd told him he was going to have to work to get Starbuck, and expect no cooperation, and instead he'd spent two days trying to decide how to approach him, and now... Now it was too late.
He headed towards his quarters. Boxey would be happy if Starbuck was happy, but he'd be on Apollo's side. Not to mention that when Apollo had floated the idea of Starbuck maybe moving in with them, maybe, last night, Boxey had been ecstatic. He'd be sad over that. But it didn't matter tonight; Boxey was spending the night with Marco. Their quarters would be empty. Just the way he wanted it.
He sat on the couch in the darkness and thought about Starbuck's face as he toasted Cassie; as he lifted her, her pale blue dress (the same color as Athena's eyes and why was he thinking of that?) floating around her; as they stood together saying 'thank you'... What else had Athena said to him? "Starbuck's fond of Cassie, not as much as he used to be, but enough... Apollo, take my word for it, it's fond. Which is, of course, enough to be going on with. I'm not saying otherwise."
He sighed, leaning his head back against the couch and staring up at the ceiling through the darkness that filled the room like it was filling his heart. You don't love her, Starbuck. You don't. Why are you doing this?
And how can I stop you?
He finally did go to bed, but not to sleep.
In the morning he made the discovery that sometime during the night cycle one of the Galactica's energizers had gone out. The second one was more than enough to run all the necessary systems, but just in case they'd cut back on some of the less necessary ones. Only every third light was out in the corridors and rooms, casting the battlestar into a dimness that he found very appropriate.
Nevertheless, Starbuck's hair glowed its usual golden in the ready room. Funny, he wasn't the only blond, wasn't even the blondest blond, but somehow he was the shiningest one. Apollo got through the brief on autopilot, adding at the end, "Starbuck, can you stay a centon? I need to talk to you."
Amid chuckles from the other pilots he did. "Missed you last night," he said when they were alone.
"I had things to do," Apollo said. "Look, Starbuck, you and Cassie..."
Starbuck smiled. "Yeah, I know. Never thought I'd settle down. I lost money on it, too."
Apollo almost said 'must be true love', but the smile hadn't reached Starbuck's eyes. He took hold of his courage and said instead, "I was pretty surprised."
"A lot of people were."
Starbuck didn't wait for him to finish, fortunately. "Fourthday," he said. "I'm off for two days then, and Dr. Salik's agreed to let Cass change her shifts to match mine. She's working today, which she wouldn't normally, but we'll be off together from now on, which will be good."
"That's good," Apollo said mechanically. Then, "No. It's not."
Starbuck shook his head. "I'm going to be a married man, Apollo. I should be spending my free time with my wife, not my buddies. It's not like we won't ever see each other again."
"Not like," he stopped. Swallowed. Tried to pick the right words. Ran out of time.
Starbuck smiled. When he spoke his voice was light, ironical. "Are you jealous, Apollo? I know what you mean. It's nice."
"Starbuck—don't." Not eloquent, but heartfelt.
Starbuck's eyes blazed a moment and then he had himself under control again. "Apollo, when you marry Sheba—"
"I'm not going to marry her," he said.
Those blue eyes looked down for a moment. When they were raised again they were cool and opaque. "Really?" Starbuck's tone was flat. "That's not what she said ten centons before briefing." Then, while Apollo tried to find the words to say, he added, "If you'll excuse me, Captain, I'm sure there's something I should be doing."
Apollo watched him walk away and knew he had to talk to Sheba before he tried Starbuck again. And, just maybe, if he talked to Cassie...
Finding Sheba wasn't hard. She was probably hanging around the offices waiting for him. "Hi," she said, putting her hand on his arm. "I missed you last night."
He went on into the office, moving unobtrusively out of her hold. "I had things to do," he repeated.
"That's too bad," she said. "It was actually a nice party. Lots of people asked about you. I made your excuses, of course."
Of course. "I can make my own excuses, thank you, Sheba."
"But you don't have to," she said. "After all—"
"Sheba," he interrupted her. "I'm not sure exactly when you decided we were getting married, but you forgot to check with me."
She got very still. "Oh? I was definitely under the impression that you were in favor of it."
"Apparently so, and I'm sorry for that," he said deliberately. "I never intended to give you that impression—"
He paused. "All right, maybe I did. Maybe I even considered it. But I never asked you to Seal with me and I don't intend to. I'm not in love with you."
Her brown eyes frosted over. "You can't marry him, you know; Cassiopeia's got her hooks into him and she won't let go, if he wanted her to. Unless you intend to share him, that is. I don't suppose they'd have problems with that, but you're supposed to be a few cuts above that sort of thing."
"I don't intend," he started hotly and then collected himself in time to change the next phrase into, "to discuss my private life with you. I'm sorry if you were set on marrying me, but it's not going to happen."
"And what do I tell people?"
"You can tell people whatever you want, I don't care." He shrugged. "I don't have the problem. I never told anyone we were."
"Maybe I'll tell them you're not man enough for me."
He almost laughed. "If you want."
She started to turn, then paused. "You don't seem to be enough for him, either. Too bad, Apollo." Then she left.
He leaned back for a centon. Narrow escape, he thought. Six sectares wasted. What did you see in her in the first place? He laughed then, a little bitterly. Beauty is only skin deep. Blinded by a pretty... face. He paused. Who had said that to him?
Frack. Starbuck, of course. And what had he said? Something like Just because you lost your own girl...
How blind can one man be? he thought and got up to go to the Life Center. With luck, Cassie would know she was second choice, would be a romantic. Would understand that he couldn't live without Starbuck.
She didn't, however, look particularly ready to do any of that. "What is it, Apollo? I'm busy."
"Cassie, I need to talk to you."
She glanced at the pile of charts on the desk in front of her.
She looked at him consideringly then rose. "All right. Not here—come with me."
He followed her across the hallway into a small break room. She shut the door and looked at him. "Well?"
"Do you love him?"
"Do you love him?" he repeated. "Because I do. I think I have for a long time without realizing it, but I do now. And I think he loves me—"
"Oh, he does," she said; her tone was unreadable.
"So do you love him? Or will you..." He wasn't sure, suddenly, in the face of her preternatural composure (professional, he supposed), how to finish that.
"What do you want to hear, Apollo?" she asked, an odd expression in her dark blue eyes. It crossed his mind, suddenly, that she and Starbuck would make spectacularly beautiful babies.
"The truth," he said, ignoring the thought.
"Really? Do you want to hear me say I love him truly, madly, deeply, and will never let him go?" She paused a moment. "Or do you want to hear me say I don't love him at all and will gladly stand aside for you?"
She didn't give him a chance to answer. "I'm not going to say either one. You want the truth? I don't love him, not passionately, not romantically. But I won't step aside for you. I won't let him go to his hurt again."
"I won't hurt him!"
"But you always do," she said implacably.
"You're one to talk—"
"Yes," she acknowledged, but her eyes didn't drop. "I hurt him once, badly. More than either of us thought it would hurt him, and I was sorry for it. I won't do it again."
"Once?" he demanded. "What about when Ortega was terminated—" He broke off; she was shaking her head.
"No. That was when you hurt him. Again."
He stared at her.
"Only someone who loved him could have believed him, he said, and then you turned back away from him. You do that all the time. Now you don't want him to marry me. But what will you do after he doesn't? What will you do next secton, next sectare? I won't step aside to let you hurt him."
He wanted to scream in frustration. "I won't," he repeated. "I love him. I'll never hurt him."
"I don't believe you," she said simply.
He stared at her for a centon, thinking. "He doesn't love you."
She almost smiled. He felt like hitting her. "Don't think I don't know that. And don't think he doesn't, either. That I don't love him, I mean. We both know where we stand. And that means we'll deal together honestly."
The implication stung him. "And I wouldn't?"
"You haven't," she said.
"How would you know?"
"I know what I've seen. And I know what he's told me. It's enough."
"And you're honest with him?" Oh, good, Apollo, that'll bring her to your point of view.
"Always," she said, her eyes darkening. "Even if we'd both rather not. Unless he knows it's a lie."
"So," he said, attacking again but it was his only option besides quitting. He might have begged; though it was alien to his nature he would have begged, on his knees, if he'd thought it would get him what he wanted. But it was all too clear it wouldn't. That probably nothing would. "So, you'll make the decision for him? He gets nothing to say about his own life?"
That, he was glad to see, made her flinch, but her voice was steady as she said, "No. If he asks me to let him go, I will. But I won't because you ask me. I won't let go of him if it means he'll be lost in the darkness, with no one to catch him. Not for you. Not for anyone."
"Even if you fall in love with someone?"
And that made her laugh. "That's an irrelevance, even if it were likely. I know you care about him, though I don't understand why you treat him like you do, so rest assured, Apollo: I'll never leave him."
And he was sure of it, but it didn't incline him to rest. He watched her walk back into the Life Center and sighed. At least she'd said she'd let go if Starbuck asked her. It would have been easier to say to him, "Cassie agrees with me: she said we should get married." Now...
Well, nothing good comes easy.
But Starbuck was a past master at avoiding him. Even though he was on duty he was impossible to find. Apollo could have made a production out of it, called him over the comm, sent people looking for him, but he didn't want to. Nothing in the known universe was more gossipy than a barracks full of pilots.
Besides, he had other things he had to do. Like pick Boxey up after instruction. Like explain to his father that he wasn't going to marry Sheba after all. Like dodge his sister...
Like plan exactly what he was going to say to convince Starbuck that he loved him, that he'd never meant to hurt him, that he never would again if only...
Surprisingly, avoiding Athena was easy. She didn't come looking for him. He was a bit surprised at that; she'd looked him up two days ago on much less pretext than this to offer him what comfort she could. That it hadn't been much hadn't been lack of her trying. On the other hand, she'd also ditched a date to do it; probably she was mending fences.
He was also a bit surprised at how much he was sorry she didn't look for him. She'd probably have had some good ideas about what to say to Starbuck, and Cassie. He sighed. He wasn't going to get any better at it if he didn't try to think of things to say on his own. And things couldn't get any worse.
He left the office and went to collect his son. "I have to talk to your grandfather," he said.
"Good!" Boxey loved Adama. And Adama loved him. Just as well, Apollo reflected. Unless Athena took up the slack, Boxey was the only grandson he was likely to have. Apollo honestly didn't think he could marry again, no matter what.
Adama fed them, as Apollo had known he would, and the three of them played a hard-fought match of Trango before Boxey settled in front of the vid for Purpur's Island and Tribal Legends. Adama and Apollo withdrew to the service room as the theme for the first show began; nobody whose age was in double digits could bear the lavender avian who hosted the first show, so Boxey was used to being alone while he watched it.
"What's troubling you, son?" Adama asked almost at once.
He smiled a little ruefully. "You always know, don't you?"
"Not what, perhaps. But I can tell, just as you can with Boxey. And perhaps I can guess. Boxey said you're not going to marry Sheba?"
"No. That's not it. I mean, no, I'm not, but that's not it. I'm happy about that."
"I don't love her, Father. I can't marry her."
"You don't have to marry her tomorrow," Adama observed neutrally. "You could continue to see her."
"I don't want to. I love someone else."
Adama rested his eyes on his son for a moment and then said, "This is perhaps impertinent of me, but are you certain that this sudden passion will last?"
Apollo nodded in acknowledgement that so far his judgment hadn't been the best. "I know. But it's not sudden. I shouldn't have married Serina, either."
"Ah. Was there," he asked carefully, "someone you should have married instead?"
"You don't seem happy with this decision. Are they no longer available?"
"Are you going to tell them?"
This time the pronoun registered. "You know?"
"If it's Starbuck, I know."
He sighed and nodded. "Yes. I love him, Father. I can't bear seeing him marry someone else."
It was so much not what he'd expected to hear that it took him almost a centon to process it. "You knew?"
"We'd have had to be very unobservant not to notice it, yahrens ago. But we, your mother and I, we thought you had learned to live with it. We had hoped you had gotten over him."
Adama shook his head. "No, not what you may be thinking. If you and Starbuck had been a couple, we would have welcomed him with open arms and open hearts. Your mother already loved him like a third son, and I was getting used to him," he chuckled. "I'm very fond of him. But he outgrew the, the passions of boyish crushes. He's been very determinedly a ladies' man, hasn't he? And when your mother talked to him, he told her, quite firmly, that you were, too. And we did have some evidence of that, after all."
Apollo banished his embarrassing adolescence to the outer darkness and instead asked, "Mother talked to Starbuck? When?"
"The summer after you graduated. She told me she was very delicate, and I'm sure it never occurred to Starbuck that she was rather hoping you two would get back together. He was firm, she said: you wanted to get married."
Briefly Apollo wished Ila had been ham-handed and overbearing. If he could think that she'd scared Starbuck off... but she wouldn't have been so clumsy in the first place, and if she'd given him the wrong impression she'd have seen it and moved swiftly to correct it. "I wanted him. I still do."
Adama sighed. "I'm so sorry, Apollo. He doesn't seem to want you."
"I haven't asked him."
Adama raised a heavy black eyebrow over an astonished brown eye. "Ever? You've picked a poor time to start."
"I know, but... he doesn't love her."
"He's asked her to Seal with him."
"I know. I'm not sure why, exactly, but he doesn't love her."
"That's a little arrogant of you." But Adama was smiling gently when he said it.
"No one who knows him thinks he does."
"No. She knows he doesn't."
"But does she love him?"
He suppressed his first reaction. It wasn't kind, it probably wasn't true, and it didn't matter anyway: whether she could love or not, she didn't. Not Starbuck. "No, she doesn't. She cares about him, but she doesn't love him."
"I want you to be happy, Apollo. You know that. I want Starbuck to be happy, too. I admit that once I thought you'd be happy together. If that's still true..." he sighed. "All I can say is, be careful, Apollo."
"I will... Father, you don't mind?"
"You're my son, and I love you dearly. He's like a kinsman. I don't want you to be hurt, either of you. So watch your step."
"Yes, sir. And thank you."
"Don't thank me, Apollo," his father said. "Not for loving you."
"No, sir..." The hug was as comforting as it had been when he was six.
"Dad?" Boxey asked once he was in bed. "Is Starbuck still going to come see us when he gets married?"
"Of course he will," Apollo said. If he couldn't manage to mend his own fences at least that well...
"I didn't think she wanted to marry him."
"She told him she did." Apollo didn't feel like discussing it with a seven-yahren-old. "How did you hear about it, anyway?"
"Some of the instructors were talking about them... Dad?"
"What does 'why would a man buy a bovine if he can get milk for free?' mean?"
"It means whoever asked that doesn't understand why people get married."
"That's about getting married?" Boxey wrinkled up his nose. "I don't get it."
"It means, why would someone get married when they have a girlfriend who'll act like a wife? But being married is about more than having fun. It's about loving someone, not wanting to live without them, wanting to be bound together, to be family."
"Oh. So Starbuck wants Cassiopeia to be his family?"
Apollo sighed. "Starbuck wants a family. I hope I can convince him he wants it to be me instead of her."
Apollo laughed and tousled Boxey's hair. "Yes, of course. Us."
"Did you ask him?"
"No. No, I never did."
Boxey smiled contentedly. "Then when you do, he will. 'Cause he loves us more than her."
"From your lips to the gods' ears," Apollo said fervently and kissed his son. "Goodnight."
Out of the mouths of babes, he thought as he lay in bed later. Though he'd hate being called a babe. Or a suckling. But that's the point of marriage, isn't it? Family. Love. Not just not being alone any more, being with someone.
He had to talk to Starbuck again.
Another morning with Boxey keeping him too occupied to think. Another morning meeting with fleet concerns he had to pay attention to. Another briefing... at least Sheba had called in for a personal day. "Lieutenant Starbuck? Please see me in my office after you come back from patrol."
"Starbuck," he said, leaning on his desk; when the blond had come in and refused a seat Apollo had decided against sitting, too. It would have been too much like captain chewing out subordinate. "I want to talk to you."
Starbuck thinned his lips but didn't say anything.
"I know the timing is terrible, but I can't help that."
"You could keep your mouth shut," Starbuck suggested. "I'm so very much not in the mood to hear why you walked out the other day I can't tell you."
"I'm sorry about that. But... damnit, Starbuck, I don't think you should marry Cassie."
"Join the club," he said coldly.
Frack. "No, no. Nothing like that. If you want to marry her, I hope you're very happy. I mean, I don't want you to marry her."
"No, of course you don't," he said.
Apollo wasn't at all sure what he meant by that so he ignored it and plowed ahead. "I love you. I want you to commit with me."
"Now?" Starbuck said. "You're saying this now? What happened to Sheba?"
"I told you yesterday, I'm not going to marry her. I told her that, too."
"Huh. What brought this on? It's still kind of sudden, isn't it? As well as badly timed?"
"Sudden?" Apollo felt like laughing. "Starbuck, please don't tell me you've forgotten that summer on Natacapra?"
"Before senior yahren?" Starbuck said, his tone, his eyes, his careful posture all betraying his wary guardedness. "Of course not. How the frack could I forget that? You nearly made me crazy that summer."
"Then how can you say this is sudden? Too long delayed is more like it."
"So how come you never mentioned it until I got promised?"
"Because," he admitted, "I had thought you were just, I don't know, curious."
"You're putting me on."
"No," he said. "You never said anything after that yahren. Almost never, nothing I could be sure of. I thought we were friends. I wasn't sure you loved me—"
Inexplicably, Starbuck blazed into anger. "Gods damn it, Apollo, of course I do! Gods know why, but I always fracking have, since, I don't know, sophomore yahren. I didn't exactly keep it a secret from you. You kept putting me off—"
"We were cadets, it was against the regs—"
"And I was waiting, cursing the luck that made me fall for one of the dozen guys there who took that to apply to making out as well as marriage, and then we graduated and it all went to hell, didn't it? You went your own way and it didn't include me. Which one of us was experimenting, Apollo? Which one of us decided to stop?"
Apollo couldn't understand the anger. "You're the one who stopped it. Why did you get so..." He was looking for the right word, distant or withdrawn weren't exactly right, but Starbuck jumped in.
"Me? You wanted me to make a pass at you? And you'd have gone along with it?" He was angrier, if possible.
"Yes, of course. Why not?"
"Why not? Why not? Are you serious? Are you actually Apollo?"
"What the hells are you talking about?"
"What about Amelia?" That was clearly meant to be a killer. There was only one problem with it.
And now Starbuck was not only angry, he was hurt. "Come on, Apollo. Don't keep pretending. I know about her."
Well, that meant she probably wasn't one of Starbuck's many girlfriends. But it was no help. "Know what?"
"For Sagan's sake, Apollo, give it a rest. I know you never got around to telling anyone and then she died in the Destruction, but I did know. You don't have to keep pretending. And when she did die, you went for Serina, so don't expect—"
"Telling anyone? Telling them what?" He was honestly bewildered.
"I never told anyone. Not even Ila when she asked me about you. I didn't lie to her, I hedged. Maybe you hadn't met the right person yet, maybe your career was more important at the moment. I did tell her you were definitely interested in women... It wasn't your fault I knew, that I had to hold something back. Something important. But I did. I know you didn't think I knew, didn't want me to know, but I did that too. I knew. And then Serina..." He shook his head.
"This isn't making any sense, Starbuck."
"Amelia," he said again with precision. "I knew. I know you didn't want me to, I don't blame you that I had to lie to Ila, or not tell her the truth anyway, but I knew."
"That's more than I do," he said frustratedly.
"Oh, don't," Starbuck said with sudden weariness. "It doesn't become you."
"Who is Amelia?"
"Your wife," Starbuck said. "Tall blonde girl, worked in the Cafe d'Oro? I could get more elaborate, you spent the night after Springfest our junior yahren detailing her charms, most of which eluded me and possibly you too when you were sober—"
Light began to dawn. "Her? I remember her."
"I hope so."
"She wanted to marry me, all right, I remember that. But she didn't love me—"
"That seems to be your style in wives. Amelia, Serina, Sheba—"
"I am not going to marry Sheba," he said for what seemed the hundred and forty-fourth time in two days. And then, "And I didn't marry Amelia."
Starbuck actually seemed to hear him this time. "What do you mean?" he asked, but it wasn't an accusation. "It wasn't in Temple, you mean?"
"Starbuck, I have no idea where you got that idea, but it's not true. I didn't marry her anywhere. At any time. Ever. Believe me."
The blond stopped pacing and stared at him. After what seemed like a centare but was probably not even five centons he finally spoke. "I can keep your secret, Apollo. I have for a dozen yahrens. I won't tell your father."
"Starbuck, there's nothing you could tell him that he doesn't already know." He heard that and immediately added, "There's nothing to tell him, period. We weren't married."
"She showed me your marriage lines."
"Just after graduation, when you were off on that two-secton 'So you wanna be a commander' course." He grinned a little, then sobered again. "She came to see me, to tell me you two were married, 'a secret for now of course but—' Apollo, she had your marriage lines."
"Starbuck, she could have gotten a license anywhere—"
"No," he interrupted. "Think I don't know the difference between a plan and a deed? A promise and follow-through? Not a license. Your marriage lines. Your signature, Apollo son of Adama son of Anacreon son of Asherah, your writing... I knew it."
"I never married her," Apollo said. "I don't know what she showed you, but I never signed anything—" He broke off, remembering that summer. "We fought about you that winter," he said. "I was hoping that in our pre-deployment furlon, not being cadets any more... but then you got all cold and distant. If Mother hadn't dragged you to Natacapra I didn't think you'd have come, and you kept away from me—"
"She was there," Starbuck said, his voice betraying his confusion. "I saw her. On Natacapra."
"Yes. I was too embarrassed to mention it. She was trying to convince me she'd followed me for love. Then she tried to blackmail me. Then she tried it on my father... Sagan, I bet she showed him those forged lines. He never told me any details, not that I asked, just said that I should perhaps be more careful in future whom I gave ideas." He laughed, not in amusement. "Between her, him, and you... I decided my career was my best bet. You know, I have a mistress; her name is Hesper, or Aquila, or Galactica."
"You weren't married?" Starbuck said. "You weren't ever married?"
"I did marry Serina. I admit to that." He swallowed, took a step closer to Starbuck, and this time the other man didn't back away. "And I'm sorry we didn't wait for you, but we truly did all think you were dead. Even after Baltar showed up, it was hard to believe it."
"I know. I never thought you should have waited for me. Hades, even I thought I wasn't going to make it that time. But—"
"But..." he admitted it. "'The funeral baked-meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables...' It was..." he sighed. "It was because you were dead, I think. I didn't really care what I did. Or when."
"And you wanted to marry her."
"And, as you say, I wanted to marry her. Starbuck, I didn't understand. Sagan, I wish you'd—I know why you didn't but I wish you'd said something to me yahrens ago. Did you think I was ashamed of her?"
"I'd have been ashamed of her... What else was I to think? You never mentioned her, and you never dated. Until after the Destruction. I couldn't keep myself from telling you I was jealous, though I did manage to wait till you were committed and wouldn't think I meant... what I meant. I wished you'd tell me. I had ideas... some of them might even have worked. But you went to Serina so fast..."
Starbuck had stepped even closer. Those blue eyes, brilliant even in the dimness, seemed to burn through the haze in Apollo's mind.
"I didn't. Understand what you meant, I mean. I'd decided I was all wrong about what I thought you wanted back at CMA, I never paid enough attention to you to see the truth. I thought we were friends, didn't realize how much I loved you till now. Athena told me you'd loved me for yahrens, but I thought it was too late—"
And one micron away from the kiss Starbuck stepped back. "I can't," he said breathlessly but determinedly. "Not now."
Apollo grabbed Starbuck's uniform tunic. He was so very emphatically not letting the other man pull away from him again, at least not without putting up a very good fight. "Not now? Why—Oh." He couldn't believe he, a man who got embarrassed when other people kissed in public, hadn't thought of that. "Nobody will barge in. But we can lock the door."
"No," Starbuck shook his head, stepping back. "Frack. I wish that was all there was. I can't." He looked at Apollo as if expecting him to understand and then explained patiently. "I'm not free, Apollo. I'm promised."
Apollo felt like a parasailer who's lost the wind, falling into dark oblivion and knowing it was going to hurt when he hit. "But—"
Starbuck's eyes were almost wistful. "No buts. We told the whole battlestar."
"But," he repeated, "you don't love her."
Starbuck shrugged. "That hasn't stopped millions, hades, billions, of weddings. And it's not new. I didn't before. The only new thing is we know."
"She cares about you. She won't want you to marry her now."
"She wouldn't. But I'm not going to tell her, and neither are you, you hear me? I won't walk out on her like that. She doesn't have someone who loves her back and I won't leave her. She promised herself to me for my sake, but now it's about her... You see that, don't you, Apollo? What people will say?"
"It'll blow over—"
"It won't." Starbuck sat down abruptly. "You don't understand, do you? You're too... too nice. Trust me, there are plenty of people around who would definitely make her miserable if I walked out on her."
"So we have to be miserable instead?" He couldn't get angry. Not only was Starbuck clearly unhappy with his decision but it was, damnit, the right decision. The correct decision, anyway. The decision Adama had taught him to make. There wasn't much right about it...
"We were anyway," Starbuck said.
"But," Apollo broke off before saying anything else. It had just hit him. "You said, she hasn't anyone who loves her back. What if she did?"
Starbuck looked at him with a glimmer of hope. "You mean... But it would have to be someone she knows. Somebody in love with her. Most people don't really fall in love at first sight. And there isn't anybody, and not much time, either."
"Frack. Fourthday? Starbuck, why'd you have to rush into it anyway?"
"Well," he said, "we could push it back a secton. I could just look stunned that anybody, even her, thought I meant this Fourthday... But that's still not much time."
Apollo sat on his desk. "Boomer's not interested in her. I don't know who he is interested in, but it's not Cassie. What about Bojay? They went out a little."
"In the first place, he was mainly thinking of her as Cain's woman, which wouldn't work, and to his credit as soon as he figured that out he backed away. And in the second, that was a while ago and he did back away and she didn't go after him; they didn't really hit it off. And in the third, Dietra would kill us. Haven't you noticed how she's been subtly positioning herself in his way for a couple of sectares now?"
"Yes, actually. I was just hoping..." Apollo shook his head. "Who else has she gone out with?"
Starbuck shook his head and answered, "Nobody who wants to marry her. Or who I'd let marry her," he added with an edge of anger.
Starbuck paused. "This doesn't leave this room."
"Of course not."
"Anybody who'd punch her because she didn't want to go to bed with him is somebody whose neck I'd break before I'd let him near her again."
Apollo remembered the bruise on her face, its edges the same dark blue as her eyes. "She didn't, what was the story? Fall down a stairway? Why didn't you tell me? Something should have been done."
"Oh, I agree. She just told me the other night; it sort of slipped out. She... Not that she puts up with it, 'cause she doesn't, but it doesn't surprise her." He shook his head. "I'm not giving people like that a weapon."
"But," Apollo knew he was fishing. "You said, loves her back."
"And, that implies there's somebody she loves. Unless," he realized, "you mean Cain."
"Nope? That's all?" Apollo was startled. Of course, if Starbuck didn't love Cassie then he probably didn't care, but presumably he'd never loved her and he'd sure cared when it had happened. Apollo didn't like to think about his own reaction, though now he understood it better, but Starbuck had been hurt.
"She got mad when she volunteered to go to the Pegasus as a medtech, they were short on them, too, and he said he didn't want her working. She realized he wanted a decoration for his arm and a plaything in his bed, even if he hadn't quite put it like that to himself. She's gotten pretty cynical about him." He paused. "About men in general. This won't work, Apollo. There isn't anybody."
Apollo knew he was desperate but even he was surprised at the next thing he said. "What about a woman? No, that's not likely. I mean..." He didn't finish the sentence because Starbuck never liked it when anybody referred to Cassie's past. Anybody.
The blond looked thoughtful. "That wouldn't surprise me."
"Let's say she's very good at erotic fantasies and leave it at that. But she might be in love with a woman, somebody straight. That would explain a lot."
Apollo was grateful. He had no desire to explore Starbuck's sex life, just to be it. "Do you have any idea who? Can you ask her?"
"No. Apollo, please. I can't ask her something like that. She's no fool. She'd back out. It's just a yahren, nobody's forgotten. She doesn't deserve to have her life screwed up. And no, neither do we, but we did it, or I did mostly I guess... I'm sorry. Gods, am I sorry. But I can't leave her alone." He rose abruptly. "I'm an idiot, I guess. But I can't help it."
"No. I know you don't deserve it but we've got used to it. And maybe you can patch it up with Sheba, or maybe... Gods, Apollo," he said with a smile that was more brave than real, "maybe I've been an idiot but your timing really sucks. I need to leave."
Apollo watched him go, his heart aching. He couldn't get mad at anybody, even the twenty-one-yahren-old Starbuck who'd believed he'd make a secret marriage. If only he'd cornered Starbuck that summer and asked what he'd done. Or not been so embarrassed by Amelia that he couldn't say to his best friend, "Gods, you'll never believe it. Remember that waitress...?" He certainly couldn't get mad at the Starbuck who'd just walked out, his pain was too palpable. Like mine.
He thought he could probably change Starbuck's mind, or at least undermine his resolve, if he tried. But that wouldn't be a good way to start out... Frack. Who taught him about honor, anyway?
He wanted to crawl into a corner and lick his wounds. He called Marco's mother; Estrella was an information analyst and never worked over her shift and Tomar's job at the armory was as predictable. Apollo occasionally felt guilty over dumping Boxey on them as often as he did, but they never asked what was up, only said 'yes' or 'no', and asked him occasionally in return. And they seemed to, and Marco and Boxey certainly did, enjoy the arrangement. Today Estrella just agreed placidly to pick Boxey up and take him to instruction in the morning, leaving him free to go home and hide.
He should have known better.
At least this time when Athena came in he was sitting on the couch instead of the floor. She settled next to him and said, "You look like Starbuck not only didn't offer you a hand but actually got a pole and pushed you under."
It took him a centon or two to remember what she'd said earlier: "You burned your bridges with him when you got married. And you dynamited the bank with Sheba, even if you've finally decided not. If you want him, you're going to have to swim. And you'd better be ready for him not to give you a hand up out of the water, to drag the metaphor out." He sighed.
"I'm sorry, Apollo."
"Actually," he said, "he pulled me right up onto the bank. But then he jumped in and swam away."
She looked at him curiously. "What in the worlds do you mean?"
He wondered when she'd become a confidante even as he said, "He told me he loves me. But he won't leave Cassie."
"Why? Because he promised to marry her and she loves him?" Her tone was neutral.
"He did promise himself," he defended him. "He said she doesn't love him, though. He just won't leave her exposed to I don't even know what exactly. Ridicule. Insults." He sighed. "He's afraid of worse, I think."
"People aren't that bad."
"Apparently some people are."
Athena became very still, her eyes turning to ice. "Are you talking about that stairway she said she fell down last sectare?"
"Who?" He'd never heard her voice this cold, not even when Starbuck was on trial for premeditated termination.
"I don't know."
"I wondered... But she's such a good actress when she wants to be," Athena said, and then startled the pogees out of him by swearing.
"So he won't... Unless," he paused.
"Unless?" She fixed him with a stare that dared him to make something of the way she'd just reacted.
"Unless we can find someone for Cassie," he said, taking note of the little things that got past her control: eyes widening a trifle, nostrils flaring just a bit, jaw clenching... He felt blinded by a sudden light. No wonder she'd been so angry when Starbuck started dating Cassie.
"Do you have someone in mind?"
He took the plunge. "You."
She looked at him with the same blankness he'd so often put up to hide his own emotions. "Me? What are you talking about?"
He thought about what she'd said a few moments ago and laughed suddenly.
A smile tugged her lips into a curve against her will. "What?"
"Are we a forlorn pair?" he asked. "A couple of plain-thinking, feet-on-the-ground soldiers completely dazzled by those high-flying quick-talking—"
"Birds of Paradise," she completed and laughed. "At least you didn't say we were noctuinas drawn to a flame."
"They're bright," he said, "but they're more like a moon than a flame. No, a star."
"Exactly," she nodded. "Out of reach. At least for me."
"But you're interested?"
"Would it do me any good to deny it? But she's not."
"Theni, may I remind you that Starbuck has been what Father delicately called a ladies' man for more than a dozen yahrens? And that I've been married? And that you've, well, dated men anyway."
"By that criterion everyone alive is flit."
"I just mean, you can't write someone off. Besides, Starbuck told me—"
"That she does?" Athena's entire being was bright with hope.
He knew just how she felt. "No," he was sorry to have to say. "Just that she might be in love with a woman, because," he tried to remember Starbuck's exact words, then did and couldn't repeat them to Athena. "Well, he just thought so."
"But not me? He didn't mention me?"
"He didn't mention anybody. He's very discreet for someone who talks as much as he does. Ask her."
She leaned back, thinking.
"This is only a little bit selfishly motivated," he prodded. "Well, all right, I admit it, more than a little bit, but I want you to be happy, too. Besides, you'd make such a beautiful couple," he added. Then the image that evoked caught up to him and he hoped he wasn't blushing. Though that was because she was his sister; otherwise, the picture was an attractively erotic, if largely imagined, one. After all, although he was deeply in love with Starbuck, more deeply now than he'd thought he could ever be with anyone, he wasn't indifferent to feminine beauty. In fact, he had to smile ruefully, that lack of indifference had gotten him into trouble more than once...
She raised a slim black eyebrow. "Really?" she observed. "Well, I have to say that there will be plenty of straight women on this ship having the same sort of thoughts about the two of you."
Now he really was blushing. And she was, she was laughing at him.
"It's true, Appy."
"Just because it's true doesn't mean I want to hear it," he said, "as I tell Boxey on a sectonly basis. Besides," another thought struck him. "Maybe she can come out of this looking like she knew it would happen in advance."
"You mean," she said, exploring the notion, "that they say they announced it on purpose? To get to us?"
"A clever ruse to flush the oblivious Adamans out of the shadows," he nodded. "Of course, we'll look like idiots, but for my part I don't mind looking a fool if I end up with Starbuck."
"There is that." She smiled at him. "She'd probably say that anyway, that she did it for him."
"I'm not sure he'd go along with that."
"I could get her to say it without asking him."
"He'd kill me. But if she's in love with you... You know," he offered, "you and Cassie could let out that you already were, just hadn't told anybody yet, went along with it for Starbuck and to do your clueless brother a favor. A huge favor," he added coaxingly, "one he'll never be able to pay back."
"Oh, no," she said, "we're not doing the 'I can't pay you back' routine. You'll stop trying." Then she smiled. "Besides, if it works out it'll be a huge favor to me, too. No, I'll be clueless along with you. Why would I have not spoken except that I'm ashamed of her? And I'm not, not if she'll have me."
He smiled back at her and put his hand on hers. "Then you will?"
She hesitated. "What will Father say?"
"That he wants you to be happy," Apollo answered with certainty. "It's what he said to me. Athena, even if she says no, you have to talk to her. My whole problem with Starbuck came from letting him pull away without ever talking to him. Never telling him how I felt and convincing myself I'd been wrong about him, how he felt, and even, eventually, about how I'd felt about him in the first place. Someday I'll tell you all about it, but my point is: if you don't actually talk to her you'll never know. And your life will based on guesses."
She nodded. "You're right. I have to try, before it's too late." She sat up. "I suppose they're together."
"I suppose they are. That's not a problem. I'll just track him down and be my usual oblivious self with a problem only he can help me with. She's used to that. And then you can show up and distract her."
She smiled brilliantly at him. "Is that the sort of thing they teach in strategics?"
"Tactics, actually," he smiled back.
Two nights later Starbuck leaned across Apollo to ask Adama, "Would you like to speak, sir?"
"No, Starbuck. You do it," the commander said. "Only, don't stand on the table, please. They frown on that in the dining room."
Starbuck looked at the white tablecloth and the china and tableware with the Galactica's crest and grinned. "I can appreciate that, sir."
Apollo knew his father wished Starbuck would call him 'Adama'. Well, in time, maybe. As he'd said this morning, "You call him 'sir'."
Across the table Cassie smiled radiantly at them and said, "We could always go into the bar."
"No," Athena shook her head. "We're in the right place. But if you don't hurry up, Starbuck, I'll do it myself."
He grinned at her and stood up, ringing a knife carefully against a crystal glass (and for the commander's table, it was crystal). Cassie joined him, resting her hand on his arm as he spoke. "May I have your attention, please?"
Eyes turned in their direction and voices hushed. Apollo knew what they were seeing: himself and Starbuck in uniform, Adama leaning back in his dark blue and silver, and Athena and Cassie in pale dresses—Cassie's off-the-shoulder blue emphasizing her delicacy and Athena's icy pink with a drape around her throat pointing her elegance—and both of them radiant. Starbuck, too... probably all four of us, he admitted. If I look a third as happy as I feel. Adama was obviously pleased as well, beaming patriarchally on the whole table.
"Cassiopeia and I," Starbuck began, "would like to apologize for a slight inaccuracy in the information we put out. A bit of deception, in a good cause, seemed in order." His smile would have blinded half the room if the lights had been up instead of dim for a civilized dining experience. "We are in fact getting married. Just not to each other."
Apollo could see the people at the next table's eyes flicking between him and Cassie, and Starbuck and Athena.
"Instead, we'll be marrying the people we're in love with, and want to spend the rest of our lives with, and were getting just a bit tired of waiting on. So, if you'll join me," he raised his glass and looked into Cassie's eyes before turning to the table, "Cassiopeia and Athena: Many, many merry days, joy-filled nights, and everywhere and when, love without ending."
Apollo and Adama stood and drank with him. A momentary pause and then the rest of the people in the room joined in, and calls of "Good luck" and "Congratulations" filled the air. If surprise was the strongest note, Apollo thought, at least there wasn't any obvious disapproval. Of course, with Adama standing there in obvious accord...
Sitting, actually, and Apollo hastily followed suit. Cassie smiled at him and then raised her own glass. "And to Starbuck and Apollo, 'Honor, riches, marriage-blessing, Long continuance, and increasing Hourly joys be still upon you!'"
And then Adama refilled his glass and lifted it to the table. "My children," he said, "children of my blood and of my heart as well, my only sadness on this day is that Ila could not be here to join her voice with mine in asking the blessings of God and the Lords of Kobol upon you all. Looking at you, your shining joy, I couldn't be happier. Welcome to our family, Cassie and Starbuck, and blessings be upon you all." He started to drink and then paused. With a broad smile he added, "For all is fair in love, or so it's said, and also that all is well that ends well. And a more fair or better ending I cannot imagine."