Looking back on it later, walking the halls, Starbuck thought he should have seen it coming, or at least known it would happen some day. After all, whatever you had to have to keep relationships working was something he'd run out of a long time ago, assuming he'd ever had it to start with. Hades, he hadn't even been able to keep his own father around... But he was still surprised.
He was going to the Life Center to bother Cass a little. He was off duty, and she would be on her dinner break in just under two centares, and with any luck they'd be slow and Salik would tell her to get rid of him by taking off a bit early... The door to the admitting area was half-open, and through it he heard Cass laughing.
That wasn't anything unusual in that, of course. Cass laughed a lot. Partly because she had a good sense of humor, partly because she liked to please whomever she was listening to, partly because she'd learned to laugh to hide other emotions... she laughed a lot. But he couldn't think of the last time he'd heard this sound. Silver, pure, unfettered, it was an absolute carol of joy. He smiled to hear it. Somebody had said something extremely amusing, somebody Cass was at ease with.
He walked through the door and felt the smile go.
He'd expected to find Athena, who was Cass's best friend. But the long-legged figure standing hipshot in front of the desk and leaning negligently on its extended forearms wasn't Apollo's sable-haired sister; it was, instead, his brown-haired bÃƒªte noire. Of course, Starbuck liked Bojay, he always had and it hadn't taken him long to get back inside the Pegasan's positive shield, so that wasn't what stopped him. It was the look on Cass's face.
He had never seen her look like that. He would have remembered if he had. And he would have killed to be the one making her glow that way.
And he wasn't, because she hadn't noticed him yet. She was sitting at a terminal, those shining lapis eyes on Bojay, so beautiful she hurt to look at. Like something in a museum, under glass, or very far away.
He let go of the door and it snicked shut behind him. They heard it and looked at him, Cass's blonde head turning a little and Bojay straightening and turning his back on her and then crossing the sight line between them. But he didn't move before Starbuck saw her welcoming smile--genuine, he'd seen too many of the others not to be sure of that, but with the candlepower considerably dimmed. "Hi, honey," she said, standing up and coming out into the front area. "You're a little early, you know."
"I know," he said, and he couldn't hear anything in her voice but amusement. He looked at the other man. "They clear you?"
Bojay looked disgusted. He held up his right hand and wiggled his fingers. "Does this look like I couldn't fly?"
"Looks fine to me."
"And of course you both have doctorates," Cass said, shaking her head. "Bones are easy, lieutenant, ligaments and nerves are hard. Next time--"
Both Bojay and Starbuck had to snicker. Bojay's hand had been smashed when he'd gotten it caught between a wall and a collapsing shelf that had very nearly decapitated Giles when a stress-weakened section of the ordnance bay had suddenly collapsed during an inspection. Giles had gotten away with a bruised shoulder; Bojay was on his second secton sitting around, but at least he hadn't lost his hand. "I doubt Gi would appreciate the thought," Starbuck said.
"You," she said. "And you," she turned on Bojay. "Go away and come back when your appointment is scheduled."
"Yes, ma'am," he grinned and left, adding over his shoulder, "Later, Bucko."
Starbuck watched him go and turned back to Cass. No. He wasn't wrong.
They hadn't noticed it.
"Did you want something?" Cass asked.
"No," he said. "Just making sure you remember we're on for dinner."
"I haven't forgotten," she said. "I just wish our shifts were synchronized a little better."
"Me, too." He smiled down at her. "I have got a few things to do before then, so I'd better get to them."
"Oh, for," she huffed. "Would you remind that man it's your day off? And then listen to yourself?"
"It's not his fault," he said unconvincingly.
"Hah," she said. But she didn't argue; she'd learned she couldn't win that one. "You will make dinner?"
"I'll be there," he promised, fairly sure he was lying.
Back in the barracks he climbed onto his bunk and lay staring up at the ceiling, thinking. After half a centare he couldn't stay still any longer and went for a long walk. And every time he closed his eyes, every blink, he saw Cass's luminous face. After a centare's walking he stopped and swore for five centons straight and then went back to the barracks, entering the lounge in time to see Bojay heading for the door. "Hey, Boj."
Those candid hazel eyes met his. "Hey, Bucko. I was headed for the Club. You eaten?"
He shook his head. "Can't. You would not believe how much I've got going on right now. Rain check?"
"Sure. I'll be around."
Starbuck grinned. "Have a good meal." He watched him out of sight and then headed for the comm unit.
"Hey, Cass, look, I'm sorry--"
"What now, Starbuck?" That was humorously exasperated.
"Something's come up, I'm sorry. I don't know how long I'll be. I know," he forestalled her. "It's your meal break, you can't wait. Don't worry about it. I don't want you to starve. Go on down and start without me. In fact, if you see anybody you want to eat with, go ahead. I have no idea how late I'll be, I might not even get there at all before you have to be back, and there's no point in you eating alone. Tell Jacko to put it on my tab."
"Starbuck, I don't want you to pay for my meals if you're not even there."
"Look, I asked you out. You didn't budget for it."
She laughed. "Believe it or not, Starbuck, medtechs do get paid enough to feed ourselves."
"True. But you can't buy a meal in the O Club. You're not an O. You're a C. Or is it a CC?"
"And you are an I. That's for 'Idiot'," she added in a kindly tone.
"It's still a vowel, and I'm right. Let me pay."
"I'll tell you who should pay," she said, pitching her voice to carry.
"It's a good idea, but he's not here at the moment."
"I'll pay you back."
She made that little sound; in his mind's eye he could see the expression on her beautiful face. What the hells am I doing? he wondered as she said, "Thank you. I hope you can make it."
"If I can get there in time I will, but don't wait on me."
"All right," she said. "Tell Apollo you do get a day off every now and then. And try to remember it yourself."
"I will. Both," he added before she could ask. "See you later."
He cut the comm and turned around to meet Jolly's curious gaze. "Don't even ask," he warned the other pilot and headed back into the hall.
Half a centare later he was standing in the foyer of the O Club looking across the restaurant floor toward a table for two. Cass and Bojay were sitting there, their meal apparently forgotten in their conversation. Bojay looked happier than he had in sectares, but it was Cass Starbuck was looking at.
He jumped about a half metron when Boomer's voice interrupted his thoughts: "Starbuck, what are you doing?"
"Not so loud," he said, looking at Boomer and then back into the club.
Boomer followed his gaze and he whistled softly. "I say again, what are you doing? Spying on her?"
"Of course not. Just..."
"How come you're not there?" Boomer said abruptly. "I thought you had a date with her tonight."
"I did. I broke it."
Boomer mulled that over. "When?" he asked finally.
Starbuck smiled a little. "Right after I saw Bojay leave to come down here."
"You really break it?"
He shrugged. "I told her I might make it, but she should eat with someone else if she saw anyone."
"Mind if I ask why?"
"Did you ever see her look like that with me?"
"Well, I mean..."
"Oh, don't hedge, Boom-boom. Did you ever see her look like that with me? 'Cause I don't remember it."
Boomer leveled a dark honest gaze at him. "No. I never did. For what that's worth."
"No. Me neither."
"Starbuck, you know if you walk in there this will stop. They aren't serious."
"No," Starbuck agreed. "They aren't. She's my girl and he's my friend and they aren't serious. So imagine what she'll look like when he gets that way. You think I want that on my conscience?"
Boomer was silent a long moment, looking at Cass and Bojay. "You gonna be all right?"
"Soon as I figure out how to break up with her."
Boomer slapped him on the shoulder. "Helluva thing to do, buddy."
"Want to go get a drink?"
"Yeah. But isn't Brie waiting for you?"
"She'd get over it."
"It's all right, Boomer. Later. I'm gonna be fine. I'm happy for her."
"I'm fine. Go. Before Brie comes out here and perks me to death."
Boomer laughed and went. Starbuck stood there a few more centons, just watching, before he left.
His autopilot took him to Apollo's quarters. When he realized where he was he wasn't surprised. Cass was right, he was always available for Apollo, but that was because it went both ways. Apollo and Boomer, Bojay to a slightly lesser extent, Athena... maybe he could sustain a relationship. He laughed mirthlessly. Just not an important one. Just friendship with people who were marrying others... He shook his head. Done's done, after all, and it was the right thing to do, even if it hurt. He took a deep breath and signalled at the door.
After a centon, just as Starbuck was turning to leave, Apollo opened the door. He was sleepy-eyed, and not just one but two locks of his black hair were askew. "Oh, Starbuck," he said through a yawn. "What's up?"
"Did I wake you? Sorry."
"No." Another yawn. "Well, yes, but I wasn't in bed. I must have dozed off. Come in."
"I don't want to bother you."
"You're not. Come in." He stood aside.
Starbuck looked around the room. A bottle of red nectar stood on the kava table with a half-empty glass beside it, and a book lay on the floor in front of the couch. "Hot night at home, huh?" he tried for a little levity. "He asleep?" He jerked his head towards Boxey's closed door.
"Yes, he is, so don't make too much noise or he'll be out here." He picked up the book and ran his hand along the spine before dropping in onto the table. "Want a drink? There's ale."
"Thanks." He could drink nectar at a fancy dinner if it was served him, as Adama did for instance, but just on its own?
Apollo came out of the serving room holding a glass. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "I mean, I thought you had a date with Cassiopeia tonight. What's up?"
Starbuck stared into the dark ale and then drank half of it. "I'm breaking up with Cass." He tossed off the rest of the ale to Apollo's momentary silence.
"For somebody else?" Apollo asked, reflexively sliding a journal under the glass that Starbuck put down.
"No," Starbuck said.
"What did she do?"
"She didn't do anything." She's on the edge of falling in love with Bojay was not the right thing to say to Apollo, who'd have been happy if that shelf had taken off the other pilot's hand.
"Then what did you do?" Apollo asked.
"Nothing," he said, stung. "I said I was breaking up with her."
"I heard you. But if she didn't do anything I was assuming it was preemptive. Or are you just bored with her?"
"What did you want me to say?" Apollo sounded put-upon.
"I was hoping for a bit of sympathy. Like I give you when you break up."
"Oh really? What about Sheba?"
"Sheba? Apollo, she slapped Boxey. If you were heartbroken after that you'd have needed counselling."
"You're not heartbroken."
"I'm not happy. And I'm not in the mood for this. I'm not in the mood for being told you never thought Cass was right for me, or whatever."
"I'm sorry," Apollo said, not sounding it. "I never did."
He raked his hand through his hair. "Why are you being so..." He couldn't find the right word.
"So what?" Apollo sounded the tiniest bit guilty.
"So," Starbuck flicked his hand outward towards the other man, "like this. I'm not like this when you lose someone."
"Maybe it's because it doesn't happen to you very often."
The sheer wrongness of that statement silenced Starbuck, but his expression must have been eloquent because Apollo looked away for a centon. Then that black head swung back and he said, "I'm sorry. I suppose I'm being a bit... petty. But you've always had a lot more girlfriends than I do."
"Don't blame me 'cause you won't try," Starbuck snapped. "You know damned well all you have to do is raise your hand."
"They don't want me--"
Starbuck overrode him. "And they want to marry you." That silenced Apollo. "They want to marry you," he repeated more softly. "They don't want to marry me."
"Oh, just forget it." At the moment he couldn't remember why he'd come to the other man with this in the first place. Apollo had been all I told you so with Aurora, lucky escape over Leona... Starbuck supposed it was only reasonable Apollo had been glad Athena hadn't married him, but now he thought about it there had been a lack of sympathy the first time he and Cass had broken up and it looked now like that hadn't just been due to Apollo's being preoccupied with the Cylons. "Just forget it."
"Starbuck, listen," Apollo caught at his arm as he turned to leave. "I'm sorry. I really am."
"Really?" He looked into those eyes, as green as a felix's, and then sighed. "I'm sorry, Pol. It's just... what's wrong with me?"
"Then why doesn't anybody ever want to marry me?" And he wished he hadn't said that as soon as he had; self-pity was not an attractive quality.
Apollo was silent for a centon, just looking at him, his hand still on Starbuck's arm. But just as Starbuck was about to pull away and say something to reduce the tension Apollo spoke. "I do."
Starbuck blinked. "You do what?"
"Want to marry you."
"You want to marry me."
"Your timing stinks, Apollo. And it's not funny."
Apollo swallowed, his green eyes bleak.
Oh, gods, thought Starbuck, don't say it.
But he did. "It wasn't meant to be funny."
So Starbuck had to say what he did. "What the hells was it meant to be, then?"
Starbuck took a step backward, his mind going blank.
"Starbuck--I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that."
And for some reason the first thing that came to his lips was, "I thought it was supposed to be true."
"It is. I didn't mean I didn't mean it. I just meant I didn't mean to say it. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable--"
"Shut up. Just shut up, Apollo. Not another word. I can't," he swallowed hard. "I can't deal with it. I can't." And in about ten microns he was going to be hyperventilating. He could feel it coming on, a full-fledged panic attack like he hadn't had since he was what? eight? ten? Little. He couldn't take it. He realized he was backing away and made himself stop.
"Starbuck." He'd never heard Apollo sound quite so forlorn, not even after Serina died. Even at this moment it tore at his heart. "Starbuck, I'm sorry. Please--can't we just forget I said it?"
"Oh, gods, Apollo, I hope so. But not now. I have to go now." He turned toward the door.
"Starbuck." It was plaintive enough--plaintive, not exactly a word he associated with Apollo--that it stopped him. "Please don't be angry. I won't ever--"
"I'm not angry." He cut Apollo off. If the next words had been say it again that would have been all right, but if they had been... He shut that down before his imagination made him sick. "I'm not angry," he repeated, "but I have to go. Now." He opened the door, paused in it. "I'll see you next shift," he said and escaped.
What he needed to do was stand still, catch his breath, get his bearings... think about what had just happened and how his life had just shattered. That was what he needed to do. It wasn't what he could do, because it was all too likely that Apollo would come out after him, trying to apologize. He didn't need to apologize, Starbuck knew he hadn't meant anything wrong, but just at the moment Starbuck simply couldn't face hearing another word in that--he shied away from adjectives--voice, couldn't bear the look in those eyes. He had to get away, find someplace to hole up and make sense of things.
If he could.
He was moving on autopilot again, and this time he wasn't sure where he'd fetched up when the realization that he might not be able to make sense of things hit him. Apollo... Apollo was the center of the universe. He was always there, always the same, always holding things together--holding Starbuck in his orbit as surely as a star holds a planet. Even when they weren't on the same ship, even when he was dating Sheba, hells, even when he was married... and now, with five words it was all changed. When the center doesn't hold, things fall apart.
Things fall apart.
He reached his hand out to steady himself against the wall and saw that it was shaking. Things fall apart, he thought again and laughed. It wasn't really funny and he knew that but he couldn't stop laughing. He couldn't get enough air, either, even though he was breathing heavily, almost gulping for air. And dizzy. He was very dizzy...
"Starbuck? Are you all right?"
He knew the voice but couldn't identify it through the roaring in his ears. He took a couple more breaths to calm down; it didn't work.
He meant to say 'yes' but wasn't sure he had. Nodding made the dizziness worse; he reached his hand out to steady himself against the wall.
"No, you're not. Come here." A strong hand took hold of his arm.
He stumbled and almost fell and then found a seat nudging his legs. He sat down, suddenly and gratefully, and felt the hand move to his shoulder.
"Put your head down, between your knees. That's right. Good; breathe slowly. Slow..."
And oh gods now he recognized the voice. It almost made him hyperventilate all over again.
"Keep your head down," said Adama. "Slow breaths. Slow... We need a paper bag, but I can't think when I last saw one."
He straightened up, steadied himself on the arm of the chair, and said, "I'm fine now, sir. I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"You're not a bother, Starbuck. And I don't think you're fine yet, either." Adama gave him one of those appraising looks from under his heavy black brows. "You look like you just had quite a shock."
Oh, yeah. Even if he'd been inclined to talk to the Commander about his personal life, which he wasn't, there was no way he was going to tell him what Apollo had said.
"And you're not usually in this section of the Galactica unless you're visiting Apollo."
Damn. He tried to think of something to say, but his wits were gone.
"I hope Apollo was home?"
And that was Adama's delicate way of asking if Starbuck's shock had left Apollo functional, he supposed. It was certainly a reasonable question. And next he'd want to know why Apollo had let him leave... He headed that whole line of questioning off by saying, "He was home. Boxey wasn't feeling all that well, so I didn't stick around. He had his hands full."
"We barely had time to start talking. I guess..." he shrugged. "I guess it just hit me all of a sudden. I'm fine now."
"You're not," Adama said with unshakeable certainty. "Stay here a bit longer."
"I don't want to bother you, sir," Starbuck repeated, though this was a bit like old times and he was tempted to stay right where he was.
"I told you, you're no bother, Starbuck. I'm quite fond of you, and it distresses me to see you so upset." That was an invitation, but Starbuck didn't feel like taking him up on it. If he hadn't been Apollo's father, maybe... "When did you eat last?" Adama asked abruptly.
Starbuck was startled into the truth. "Yesterday."
"You haven't eaten anything? That's unlike you. I remember Ila saying you would sleep through breakfast, and you do occasionally work through the noon meal, but you don't usually miss supper as well."
Starbuck shrugged. "Things came up. I'll get something."
"Apollo didn't feed you?"
Starbuck froze for a micron. "He didn't know."
"Well, there's part of your problem," Adama had apparently missed it. "No food, and that ale he keeps for you; it's stronger than nectar. You need some food in you. Wait a centon."
"Sir, I'll get something at the officers' mess," he protested. "You don't need to feed me."
"We're off duty, Starbuck. You don't need to sir me, and it won't hurt if I offer you something to eat." He rose and disappeared into his service room, adding in a somewhat louder tone to reach from there, "Of course, I'm not much of a cook, so what you'll get," he appeared with a tray, "is cheese. And crackers." He put it down on the desk beside the chair Starbuck was in.
Starbuck smiled. "This is fine, Adama," he said, feeling a bit odd to be using the commander's name like that. Smelling the cheese made him aware of how hungry he was.
Adama pulled up another chair, waving Starbuck to stay where he was, and sat down. They were both quiet for a few centons, Starbuck trying not to bolt the cheese and Adama sipping his tea. After a while, the commander said, "I don't mean to pry, Starbuck--"
"I broke up with Cass," Starbuck interrupted him. It was going to be true, anyway, and it wouldn't be a secret, and it would keep Adama off the right scent.
"I'm very sorry to hear that." He sounded it, too. "You two seemed happy together, and you made a lovely couple."
Starbuck sighed and looked into the pale, hot liquid in his glass. "We got along," he said. "But we're not in love, and she's met someone she could fall in love with. Who could fall in love with her." He shrugged. "She'll be happier."
He looked up to see genuine concern in those dark brown eyes. Zac had had eyes like that. Apollo had his mother's eyes... He closed his own and then opened them angrily when those anguished green ones promptly presented themselves. "I'll be fine."
"You use that word quite a lot, don't you?" Adama's lips twitched in a momentary grin. "I don't think it means what you think it does."
Starbuck had to chuckle; the quote was too evocative of the vid it was from, one of his favorites. It put him off balance for Adama's next remark.
"Sometimes Apollo's sense of timing leaves a bit to be desired."
"I'm... ummm, what do you mean?"
"Ever since he was a small child," Adama said, looking into the starfield visible through his window, "Apollo has had trouble expressing his emotions. If he were a genuinely aloof person, or simply self-contained, it might not be so bad, but I don't think, and his mother didn't think, he was. Just," he sighed, "terribly shy. You and Boomer were the first real friends he ever had. And as for girlfriends... frankly, I was sorry that arranged marriages had fallen out of favor."
"He found Serina," Starbuck said.
"Or she found him."
"They were happy together." He couldn't prevent a trace of desperation, but maybe Adama didn't know him well enough to recognize it.
"They were. Particularly the three of them. When I saw the three of them together, I was happy for them. When it was just the two of them, though..." Adama sighed. "I sometimes wondered how happy they would be together once the newness wore off the relationship." He looked directly at Starbuck. "Apollo is not the easiest of men to get to know, as I'm sure you're aware. I want him to be happy, and I hope he finds the right person sooner than I did."
Right person? Maybe he was just being overly sensitive, but wouldn't it have been more natural for Adama to say right woman? "He will," he said. "He deserves to be happy, and he'll meet someone..."
"I certainly hope so. And I hope that when he does, that person won't waste time or energy worrying over what Apollo's family will think."
Starbuck took a centon to process that and decide that it meant what he thought it did. Then he took another to carefully frame his answer: "I'm sure that anyone who loves Apollo enough to want to marry him won't let anything stand in her way."
Adama sighed softly and nodded. "I hope you're right, Starbuck. I want to see him happy." He took a sip of tea. "I want to see you happy, as well."
"I will be. And he will be, too." Starbuck stood up. "I really have stayed too long. Thank you."
Adama had risen as well. "Take care of yourself, Starbuck."
"Yes, sir. Good night."
Out in the hallway Starbuck tried to shake off the impression that he'd crossed into another reality. He'd known Adama wouldn't have minded if he'd married Athena, but this? Sure, on one level anybody you'd accepted the thought of him sleeping with your daughter you'd probably accept your son sleeping with, but to accept so calmly that your son wanted the same person who wanted your daughter... He shook his head. He wasn't even sure that made sense to him.
But it didn't matter. Just because Adama was okay with it, maybe even in favor of it, didn't mean it was going to happen. He wasn't in favor of it. Damn it, just because Apollo wanted him--
He hit the wall with the side of his fist, hard. Stop thinking about that. Even if he wants to he won't, and you don't want to. Right? He looked at his wrist chrono. Time enough to stop for a quick one, maybe a few hands of pyramid... Boomer was probably still with Brie, but Jolly and Greenbean and Giles...
Cass. He hadn't broken up with her yet, and she didn't know he meant to. And she'd be getting off duty soon. He blew out a gusty sigh of relief. Cass. She was what he needed right now. No. What he wanted.
He headed for her quarters with the feeling that he'd found his salvation.
He signalled at her door and let himself in in case she wasn't back yet. The lights were on, though, and then he heard her voice from her sleeping room. "Starbuck?"
"Yes, it's me."
"You missed dinner." She came to the doorway wearing only her sleeping shift, her bare limbs and throat pale against its frosty green. "Want dessert?"
He kissed her hungrily, sliding his hands under the shift along her back. Then he took her in his arms and carried her to the bed, nuzzling her throat. "Ummmm," she said. "Maybe Apollo should keep you late more often."
He paused in the middle of pulling off his shirt. "Let's not talk about Apollo," he said, and, dropping the shirt on the floor, knelt on the bed and reached for her.
"Fine with me," she said, and then arched her back, panting, as he began kissing her breasts.
Her shift joined his shirt, and soon enough she was helping him out of the rest of his clothes. Her hands and mouth were eager, and he quieted his conscience by telling himself she was remembering who she had had dinner with. Besides, she'd help him if she knew.
Her body was so familiar to him that he could arouse her with his eyes closed. Tonight though he was keeping them open because he didn't want to see what was waiting for him in the darkness behind his eyelids. He concentrated on Cass, on this beautiful woman he was in bed with, this beautiful woman he was making love to. But he gradually became aware that she was more aroused than he was. In fact...
He wasn't becoming aroused at all.
That was new, and it was disturbing. How could it be happening to him? But it was, and there was at least one explanation though it wasn't one he wanted to think about. At least he was able to satisfy her, though as her panted cries of his name subsided along he didn't move his mouth upwards along her body as he usually did. Instead he pulled away, not knowing what to do.
"Starbuck?" She caught at his arm.
He closed his eyes and opened them immediately. Damn, he could see he wasn't going to get any sleep tonight. He sighed. "Sorry, Cass..."
"Starbuck, believe me," she said, stroking his shoulder, "this is completely normal."
"No, it's not."
"Is this the first time it's happened to you? It probably won't be the last, sweetheart. Men get tired."
"Oh, god." He rolled over away from her. "It's not that. It's not that at all."
"Starbuck?" She touched his shoulder again, gently. "What's wrong?"
"How could this happen? Cass, damn it... I like women!"
"I do not like men!"
There was a long pause. "Starbuck, I think we need to talk about this. Seriously."
"Talk seriously, or you seriously think?" He tried to retreat into flippancy but he didn't think it was working.
"Well, both, I suppose. Come on, sweetheart. Let's get dressed and go out front where we won't--"
"Have the evidence all around us?"
"Be so easily distracted," she corrected him. He felt her get out of bed. When he turned over she had pulled on her shift and was tying her robe on around herself. "Get dressed. I'll go get us some ale."
He didn't mind leaving the bed behind him, that was for sure. He'd have just as soon gone back to the barracks, but when he came out she was standing there waiting for him, a pitcher of ale on the litte table and two glasses already poured. "Sit," she said, pushing him lightly toward the couch. He did, and she curled up on the other end.
"What happened before you got here?"
"Nothing," he said. She raised her eyebrows. "Much," he conceded. "I just... Nothing happened, just..."
"Capricans," she said, shaking her head. "All those Kobolians in the government. No human sexuality in school. Especially government institutions."
"Human sexuality in school?" he imitated his usual levity. "I could have gotten behind that."
She smiled quickly at him, but then said, "You shouldn't worry if you're attracted to men--"
"I'm not. I mean..."
She waited a moment. "You're not? Then what are we talking about?"
"Someone's attracted to me."
"And you don't reciprocate?"
"Why do you ask that?"
"Because you're capable of telling him to get lost," she said. "I've seen you do it. So I don't see why it would bother you this time. Unless you felt tempted."
He slumped back against the wall. Because that was the hell of it, wasn't it? He loved Apollo. He didn't love him like that, or he never had loved him like that anyway, but every time he thought about the look in those green eyes as he backed away...
After a few centons she said, "Or unless it was someone you don't want to tell to get lost but never thought of yourself as attracted to."
"In the Dark Ages you'd have burned as a witch."
"Only if I talked to the wrong person," she said. "So you think you are attracted to him?"
Cass let that lie between them. Straightening up, she poured herself a half glass of ale and held out the pitcher to him. He picked up his glass and let her fill it. She put the pitcher back on the table and curled her legs back under herself again. Then she just sat there, sipping and not speaking.
"I'm not," he said finally. "But I'm not... repelled, either."
"No," she said. "Of course you're not. Because you love him."
"I do not. Well, I do, but... We need a different word."
That made her smile. "Yes, we do," she agreed. "You won't get any argument out of me on that. But even if you are attracted to him, physically I mean, there's no need for you to worry. It's perfectly natural."
"Natural? I like women. So does he, or at least I thought he did."
"That's what I mean. Some good solid grounding in human sexuality would stop a lot of this nonsense before it had a chance to make people unhappy. Think of sexuality not a some polar thing, Starbuck, think of it as a curve on a graph. There's all sorts of room in the middle. If straight is one, and purely flit is twelve, most people are in the two-to-three or the eight-to-ten range, and lots of them are squarely on six."
"Really. I wouldn't lie to you. You don't like women because you're secretly flit; you like women. But that doesn't mean you couldn't like, not all men, but some." She leaned forward and put her hand on his arm. "Or one. I mean, I can think of several who might be attracted to you, but only one who is that I think would make you react this way. Are we talking about Apollo?"
There was clearly no point in pretending it wasn't. "It doesn't suprise you?"
She shook her head.
"He was married."
She smiled. "That doesn't mean he can't fall in love with you, Starbuck. I am surprised he mentioned it."
"He had his reasons. It wasn't just out of the blue." Starbuck paused. "I'd just told him I was going to break up with you."
This silence was a bit different. "You did? Why?"
He shrugged. "You deserve better than me."
Her eyes flashed. "I wish you wouldn't say that. It's not true."
"Of course it is. You're a wonderful woman. Gods know you've had a hard life but look at you: in less than a yahren you've become one of the best medtechs in the Fleet. Paye wants you to train as a doctor. You're--"
"Wonderful. Fine. I'm beautiful and intelligent and brave; I don't argue it. But so are you, Starbuck. So are you."
"So--are--you," she repeated.
"That is not the point."
"What is the point?" she asked. "You're breaking up with me because I'm too good for you? All of a sudden--" She stared at him. "Did you do that on purpose? At supper?"
"Well, I'm right."
"You are not."
"Yes, I am."
"I'm not in love with Bojay."
She started to speak and then stopped.
"See what I mean?" he asked. "Look, Cass, we've had a lot of fun, but that's all it's ever been between us. Oh, a couple of times we've said 'I love you' to each other, but there's always been some huge crisis going on and we've both backed away from it as soon as we decently could. And I never said it first, anyway--" The truth of that hit him like a charged plasma beam. Not just to Cass; he'd never said it first to anyone. His declarations always had 'too' tacked on the end... He shook that off to think about later. "The point is, Bojay is a decent guy with none of my drawbacks. He'll make you a lot happier than I could."
"Maybe so," she nodded. "And you know why?"
"'Cause I don't love you. Not enough, anyway."
"Because," she said, "you do love someone else. And more than enough."
"Don't you?" She reached out and stroked his cheek. "Starbuck, you're a wonderful man. And a wonderful lover. And you'll make the right person a wonderful husband. And you're right that that person isn't me. But you're wrong if you think it's not Apollo."
"I'm not..." He couldn't find the words to finish that.
"Starbuck, just don't write it off so quickly because you never thought of it before tonight."
He shook his head. "I can't do it, Cass."
"Look, Starbuck, we got off topic. We were talking about human sexuality."
"Do you remember why?"
He sighed impatiently. "Because you thought I was attracted to some man."
"And do you remember why?"
He stared at her. "What are you saying?"
"Love is a funny thing," she said. "They can teach human sexuality in school all they want and people still mess up their lives because nobody can teach you about love."
"Oh, gods, isn't that the truth?"
She smiled at him. "You love Apollo."
"Not like that."
"But you love him."
He sighed. "Yes... Maybe that's why it's so hard."
"Because you're mad at him."
"No, I'm not."
"Are you sure? You sounded mad."
"I'm not mad. I'm just confused. How could this happen?"
"How? Starbuck, I'm sure he's always felt like this. Certainly he has since I've known him."
"Well, he's never said so before." She raised her eyebrows at his tone and he gave up. "All right. Yes. I'm angry at him. Damn it, Cass. We were fine before." He broke off, hearing Adama's voice: you use that word a lot. He took a breath. Damn it, we were fine.
"Yes, we were. We were friends, we were best friends, we were there for each other, we could tell each other anything--"
"No, you couldn't. He couldn't tell you this."
Starbuck bought himself some time by taking a long drink. Then he looked at her, and found himself slumping back against the couch. "What do you want me to do, Cass? I can't change how I feel."
"I'm not telling you to do anything. I'm only telling you that whatever you do, whatever you end up doing, there's nothing wrong. With it, or with you."
"Easy for you to say."
She refused to take offense. "Yes, it is. And it should be easy for you, too."
"Okay, maybe. But I still can't change how I feel."
"Perhaps not. But I'm not sure you actually know how you feel. No, Starbuck--I'm serious. What you know is how you think you're supposed to react. But I repeat: I've seen you brush off passes over on the Rising Star without turning a hair. This is different and I doubt it's just because you know him. So I suppose I am telling you to do something, at that: I'm telling you to actually think about it. To actually try to understand yourself, and to not go off half-charged. If you ruin your relationship with Apollo, you'll regret it for the rest of your life, and you know it."
"I'm not the one who changed it." But the anger was gone, he didn't know where or why.
"No," she agreed. "You're not. But how you react now will determine whether the two of you can still be friends, and how close your friendship will remain. So maybe I'm telling you to do two things. Because I expect you need to talk to him, and soon, if only to say that you don't know yet what you want to say. Unless you want to lose him."
And he didn't, though the intensity of that both startled and scared him. "You're right," he said. "About that, anyway." He sighed again and laid his head on the couch-back, closing his eyes. This time he left them closed, looking into the memory of Apollo's eyes as he backed away from him, Apollo's face as he shut the door. "I do need to talk to him."
"Well," she said comfortingly, "it's not like you won't see him again in the morning... I know you said we're breaking up, but, do you want to stay here the rest of the night?"
He opened his eyes and turned his head towards her. "What?"
She smiled lovingly at him. "You can have the couch if it will make you feel better."
He laughed once. "No, thanks." Sitting up, he added, "But, uh, thanks, Cass. For everything."
"You're welcome." She touched his shoulder. "You're very welcome. Whenever."
"Boj might have his own opinion on that."
"You're getting ahead of yourself." But this smile was warmer and her tone was both softer and surer.
He laughed again. "I doubt it. He's no fool." When he stood so did she; he took her in his arms for a moment. "If he doesn't treat you right, you let me know, hear?" he said softly into her ear.
"I will." She leaned back to look up at him out of shining eyes. "Thank you."
He shrugged and for lack of anything to say kissed her forehead.
She hugged him. "Be happy, Starbuck."
"If only it were that easy. But you, too. Sweet dreams, Cass; I'll see you around."
"You'd better." She let him go. "Good night, Starbuck."
Once outside in the corridor he started for the pilots' barracks, but halfway there he stopped and looked at his wrist chrono. It still wasn't very late; Apollo was probably still awake. Probably? Of course he is, fretting over saying the wrong thing. You can tell him you're not angry, anyway. You can tell him of course you can forget he ever said it. He blew out a breath. And you can have a drink with him, show him you still trust him, for the gods' sakes. He nodded to himself and turned around.
He signalled at Apollo's door and waited a couple of centons. Sagan. He just trot off and go to sleep? But a micron's reflection told him that wasn't even possible; he'd spent way too many nights listening to Apollo pretending to sleep to believe it. But he might have gotten drunk. He shook his head and keyed himself in.
The front room was exactly as it had been when he'd left: glasses--Apollo's still half-full, bottle, book, lights on. Apollo's sleeping room was empty. Starbuck blinked. Where had he gone? Where do you think, Bucko? After you... and he'd never guess the commander took you in. A thought struck him and he opened Boxey's door as quietly as possible. The metallic whine of Muffit's servos came out of the dimly lit room and he could see Boxey turn over in his bed. He froze until he was sure the boy wasn't waking up and backed away, letting the door shut.
Apollo had left Boxey? He never left his stepson alone. In fact, he'd drawn up an elaborate schema for that exact purpose, and Starbuck firmly believed that the Cylons could attack at any centare of the day or night between now and Boxey's coming of age and Apollo would know exactly which non-combatant he was to stay with... That he'd left the boy alone was almost inconceivable, and only 'almost' because it was actually happening.
Well, that settled it. He'd thought about going after him, but the notion of the two of them chasing around the battlestar like characters in an Aquarian farce was not appealing. Now he'd have to stay. Apollo would never forgive himself if Boxey woke up, scared or sick, and found himself alone. He sighed, looking at the bottle, but then he just picked up it and the glasses and took them into the service room. He poured the nectar in the glass back into the bottle--they'd been sitting out the same amount of time, after all--and stuck the stopper back into it. He didn't know if this was the kind that needed chilling so he left it out; it was probably easier to chill than to warm back up. He thought about ale, but Adama's cheese and crackers seemed like a long time ago, and they certainly weren't proof against a fourth glass inside two centares.
Lords of Kobol. Was it only two centares since Apollo had said he wanted to marry him? It seemed two centuries. He picked up a piece of fruit and went back into the front room. After a few centons the book on the table began bugging the pogees out of him. One book out of place, one thing out of place. It wasn't the out-of-placeness itself getting to him, of course; though he was neat and had been before the service made it second nature, if he'd had space to himself there would have been things lying around (a home, not just a place to live), especially if he was, say, reading the book at the time. But Apollo was uber-neat, as the Sagittans would say. Or uber-whatever-the-hades-the-Sagittan-was-for-neat, anyway. Obsessive about it, in fact. And he'd never under normal circumstances leave a book lying out like that, especially sort of skewed to the table's edges. Finally Starbuck picked it up and found its spot on the shelf. Slotting it back into place, he found himself wishing he could just slot his emotions back as well. And Apollo's. No good fixing his if he couldn't fix the other man's, too.
Although, if he were honest with himself, he would have to admit that part of him, and not a small part either, didn't really wish the words unsaid. He'd figured it out, finally, slow maybe but he'd gotten there. He understood why Apollo had said what he had. Why he'd had it to say, that was different and a bit disturbing, and he would probably never figure that out, but granting that... Apollo had just been doing what he always did: he'd been trying to make Starbuck feel better about himself. Someone does love you enough to want you forever. I do.
Unfortunately Starbuck hadn't been ready to deal with that. Not from Apollo.
Cass was probably right that he should try to figure out why Apollo saying he loved him bothered him more than Pollux back on the Falca Sanguinaria saying he wanted to frack him through the deck plates, or Stormcloud shyly suggesting they spend their furlon together. It pretty obviously wasn't just because he knew him. Wasn't even just because he liked him; he'd liked poor old Stormcloud, too, had contributed a sectare's pay to the fund for his mother when he bought it at Galsa. What he hadn't done was freak out when the boy made the suggestion.
His head hurt. He couldn't fight his way through this tangle tonight and he didn't mean to try. He took a restless turn around the room and fetched up in front of a picture he didn't remember seeing before. Apollo must have gotten it framed recently, or maybe Boxey had wanted it out. At least Apollo could look at it now.
He reached his hand out and touched the image lightly: Adama's big house on the outskirts of Caprica City, its stone facade a mellow honey color in the summer sun and the lush lawn a brilliant green. Like someone's eyes... He sighed, remembering the first time he'd visited that house. He hadn't thought he'd be unwelcome, how could people who'd produced someone like Apollo do anything but open their house to his friends (how true that was he only learned later), but he hadn't expected to be made to feel so completely wanted. And he knew it wasn't exactly a strain on the household, but still when he'd come the second time and found out that they'd left the room he'd used for him, he'd felt like he'd stumbled into a fay-tale. Without any Fay, of course, though Ila came close.
And Thenie and Zac were perfectly good hob-sprites.
He smiled again and ran his fingertips over the two children and the big daggit tussling in the lush grass. Thenie had grown into a Fay herself, and Zac... Well. Gods, he missed Zac. Funny how quickly a boy could worm his way into your heart.
Like Boxey. He glanced over at the closed door and wondered again where the hades Apollo was. Maybe he should call Adama... No. And not Athena, either. Apollo would never forgive him for that.
He put the picture back and sat down, then stretched his legs out onto the kava table. That might cause Apollo to materialize... You want to get your feet off my furniture? It didn't happen, though, and Starbuck found himself thinking about rooms. More specifically, his rooms and how that room in Apollo's house was the only one he'd ever had all to himself. He'd roomed with people at the Academy, well, roomed with Boomer anyway, and he'd been in pilots' barracks ever since. And before that...
Before that he'd been in an overcrowded orphanage that simply didn't have the space to give children their own rooms. Even teenagers, though by the time you were sixteen you usually had only one roomie, two at the most. After all, by the time you were sixteen you were probably gone...
Cass might disparage the Caprican educational system, but Starbuck didn't. It had gotten him his commission, after all. But it was true that only two kinds of people got into advanced schools: those with good marks and those with money. The full scholarships they gave to indigent students whose marks were high enough meant that most of the kids at Umbra-Ten were channeled into trades or the service or, if they didn't want that, just let go at sixteen to fend for themselves. Starbuck had worked his astrum off to get into the advanced track, and it had paid off beyond his wildest dreams.
But he'd had a yahren of Dom before that. Dom, smart as a serpent and just as socialized. When Starbuck had looked into Baltar's eyes he'd recognized his old roomie's expression. Uri had it, too... Dom hadn't had their advantages of birth, and it hadn't surprised Starbuck much to hear he'd been terminated during his first year at the prestigious Caprican Institute of Technology. He'd had a mouth on him, had Dom, and he'd never learned limits, and some aristo with a low tolerance for verbal assault had cleansed the worlds a bit. Gotten away with it, too.
Starbuck had sent him scarlet triumph lilies. Anonymously, of course.
He hadn't thought about Dom in yahrens. Why had that slimy son of a dagget crawled into his mind now? Whyever, he didn't want to think about him now, either.
Lords above, Starboy, but you are pretty. You're going to have a great time in the service, from what I hear. Those drill instructors get a look at you, a look's not gonna be enough. Take it like a man, or from one, you might not even see combat. Hand to hand, maybe, you know what I mean...
He stood up and paced around the room again, looking at his chrono. Maybe he should call somebody.
Gods. Surely Apollo hadn't done something stupid?
No. He wouldn't. He was too responsible. Too religious. Too rational.
But where in all seven hells was he?
The door opened.
"Where the hell have you been? I was this close to calling Security."
"What are you doing here?"
"You left Boxey. What if something had happened to him?"
"I was looking for you."
Starbuck paused. Why was he so angry? He had come here to cool things down. And then it hit him. He was angry because he was scared, and that's what he did. It's what he always did when Apollo scared him. Usually he was scaring him by risking his life, and since he was the center of the universe, he couldn't go and get killed. But tonight Apollo had scared him in another way, and just as much without meaning to as when he got shot down. And it wasn't fair to blame Apollo when it was Starbuck's own fault... He grinned. "Well, I'm here."
"I see that." Apollo took a deep breath. "Starbuck, please forgive me. I didn't meant to say that, and I promise--"
"Shut up, Apollo."
"Starbuck? I'm trying to say--"
"I know what you're trying to say. I don't want you to say it."
Apollo paused. "Why not?" he said guardedly.
And that was the question, wasn't it? No. The question is: why does it scare me when you ask? And the answer is... He looked at Apollo, waiting there, and saw the other's man fear, and his desire. His love... And the answer came to him as if from an outside source. Because Apollo is the one you want to say yes to. And saying yes is inviting hurt. He closed his eyes for a moment. And saying no isn't?
Apollo was still waiting, obviously not trusting himself to say the right thing.
"Because I think," he swallowed. "I think I'm going to want to hear it pretty often. You know how insecure I am..."
Those green eyes were ablaze with hope. "Starbuck?"
He bit his lip, looking at those eyes. Was he really causing that? Could he really be what Apollo wanted? And could he live up to that? Oh, gods... if he said it, he'd have to. But looking at the other man he could feel his body bypassing his brain and wanting to try, as it hadn't with Cass. His body had made up its mind back at Adama's if not earlier. It was his brain that wasn't ready. His memory...
Words in the dark...You know, Starboy, for you 'desk job' is gonna have a whole new meaning. That face and that astrum are gonna take you far, with an emphasis on 'take', if you get my drift.
But he wasn't in the dark, and he wasn't sixteen. And Apollo wasn't anything that Dom could have imagined. "I don't think that's the promise I'm gonna want from you, Apollo."
"Are you sure?"
"Hell, no. Of course not. So let's remove my doubts, okay? One way or the other, and either way I promise not to hit you."
"Starbuck, you idiot."
"Stop sweet-talking me, Apollo, and kiss me."
Apollo didn't move, just looked at him like whatshisname at the Promised Land. So Starbuck sighed theatrically and closed the distance between them.
It was good. It was beyond good. It was so far beyond good that he didn't have a word for it, or enough brain to spare for looking for one. Somehow they were in the sleeping room, and for the second time in an evening Starbuck's clothes were hitting the floor. But this time things were different.
In more ways than one.
"I love you, Starbuck," Apollo said afterwards.
Starbuck sighed. The light in Apollo's eyes would have driven the darkness out of the Netherworld, let alone his benighted brain. He felt like he was basking in the sun. He'd never seen the other man so, so, so glowing and he could scarcely believe it was on his account. The evidence pointed that way, though. He ran his fingers through Apollo's hair.
"I'm sorry, though."
"Scaring you. I never meant to just--"
"You didn't scare me."
"Felgarcarb, Starbuck," Apollo said, brushing a strand of hair off his cheek with gentle fingers. "You were scared, and I'm sorry."
"I was scared," he admitted; it might be the first time he'd ever said so except as a joke. "But I wasn't scared of you. You didn't scare me."
Apollo's eyes darkened. "Who were you scared of?"
He smiled. "No one you ever heard of, Pol. No one you need to think about. He's long dead, and he never did anything but scare me anyway."
"That's enough to make me hope he's rotting safe in the third hell," Apollo said fiercely. "You know I'll never hurt you. You know that."
"I know it," Starbuck assured him. "I knew it then. I've always known it."
"I love you, Starbuck."
"I know that, too."
"I want you to live here."
"I knew that, too."
Starbuck laughed. "You said you wanted to marry me. That usually includes living together."
"Oh. I suppose so... Well?"
"It's a bit sudden."
"Starbuck." Then he paused. "Well, maybe it is. But I mean it. Take your time, but I do--"
"Apollo." The other man fell silent. Starbuck raised up on his elbow and looked at him. "I'm just a trifle freaked out still by this whole thing. I mean, this is not the image of me that I've carried around in my head for the last twenty-odd, some very odd, yahrens."
Apollo nodded, opening his mouth to say something. Starbuck quickly reached out and put his finger on Apollo's lips.
"I'm just saying it may take me a while to, well, to leap in with the abandon for which I'm so well-known. I mean, this was nice, but I've seen vids and I've heard talk and, well, it may take a while before I'm ready to," he swallowed. The words wouldn't even come yet. Apollo was shaking his head, his eyes soft and loving. Starbuck felt a warmth spreading inside. Maybe it won't take all that long? He moved his hand aside and kissed Apollo.
And would he have felt like this if he'd kissed another man yahrens ago? Or was it only Apollo that would fire his blood and warm his soul? He dismissed the question, because it was meaningless; there would be only Apollo from now on... He pulled his head away, feeling Apollo's reluctance to let him go. Swallowing hard, he said, "Yes, Apollo. I'll live with you, whenever you want."
"I love you."
And didn't they say don't stare at the sun? He'd never seen Apollo so... so luminous. And over him? Starbuck closed his eyes, feeling tears of joy, and let his lover hold him close.