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Zac's Birthday

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The priest walked through the sanctuary, looking to see if anyone was still there before he closed up. Although the bell would summon him if someone came, they no longer had the staff to keep this chapel open all night. The war had taken them, and in different ways: some had gone to other chapels on other ships to minister to refugees with no priests; some had joined the military, beating their staffs into swords to use against the enemy, metaphorically speaking; and some had died. But he saw no one. The chapel was empty.

There had been people in and out all evening, though, and one that morning, all lighting a memoriam-candle, all staying long enough to tell him that their dead wasn't an old loss, none lingering to talk to him. Six mourners, slipping in and out wrapped in private grief, six Warriors no doubt convinced that private grief was wrong when such massive losses had been suffered by everyone. Perhaps he should have spoken to them, but...

He paused in front of the altar to say his final prayers of the night. Six flames flickered bravely in the darkness on the wall to his left, six crimson candles. Crimson for a dead young man...

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Twenty-one. You'd have been twenty-one today.

Gods, Zac. I'm so sorry.

It's just a routine patrol. Why is it so important to you?

'Cause it is. I'm a Warrior. I earned that. I want to prove that to him.

You did. I hope you know that. I hope he let you know it. He still won't talk to me about it.

Oh, sure, he'll talk. He'll say it's not my fault, he'll brush over it as though it's not important. But it is, of course, so he won't really talk to me.

I wish he did blame me. Because he doesn't, of course. He blames himself. So I hope he at least let you know how damned proud he was of you at the end. If he didn't, that'll just be one more thing eating him up.

And I can hear you now: 'Starbuck, I'm the dead one! Why is it always about him?'

Well, you know why... Plus, you are dead. It doesn't matter to you any more. You're either nonexistant or beyond all this. Since the Ship of Lights I'm a little more inclined to think we go on, though I don't know why, but either way he's here and you're not. So of course it's about him.

I'm sorry you're dead, don't get me wrong. And not just 'cause it'd be so much better for him if you weren't. I'm sorry for your sake. I know I called you a tag-along and a nuisance, but I hope you know I really liked you. Like you were my own little brother almost. At least I think so.

I miss you a lot, anyway. I wish you weren't dead. You should have lived a lot longer than twenty yahrens.

It should have been me out there.

Happy Birthday, Zac.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Oh my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

I know exactly how that old king felt, Zac. Even to my own Joab telling me to keep my grief to myself.

Not that Tigh did. But he would have if I'd needed to be told it.

And of course, you, unlike Absalom, were worth my grief.

Oh, Zac. My son, my son.

I will grieve for you every day of my life. A father is not supposed to outlive his children. And your life had barely begun. You were so young, so full of life. And in some ways such a stranger to me, though dearly beloved. I was absent for so much of your childhood, though you were never out of my thoughts. But I was proud of you, every day of your life.

I loved you, my son.

I still do.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

God, Zac. Your birthday. And I'd have been here for it for the first time in a dozen yahrens.

Instead I got you killed.

You and Starbuck--two of a kind. Double-teaming me. And I let you. I let you. I knew you weren't ready, you were so wet behind the ears you should have Starbuck's towel. The new wasn't off your jacket yet, and your ensign pins were bright enough to blind me. And I should have known the Cylons couldn't be trusted.

I got you killed.

I got you killed.

Starbuck blames himself, but I'm the captain. I let you come. I led the patrol. I left you behind.

Can you forgive me? I didn't mean to.

I really didn't.

I know I made your life miserable when you were little, before I went to the academy. Before I grew up. I resented you. You were this perfect little boy who came along and stole Mother's time and attention. I could excuse Theni, she's a girl, but you, everything came easily to you, you actually wanted to do everything you were supposed to. And you weren't even supposed to... I'm the oldest, I'm supposed to, and you didn't even have to, but you wanted to and you were good at it. At all of it.

But, Zac, I swear, I got over that. I loved you. I always loved you even when I resented you, and I didn't resent you any more. I wanted to be friends so much, I was so happy you were here, and then... I got you killed.

Zac. Gods, Zac. I'm so sorry...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I'm not at all sure what good this will do, lighting a candle here. You're dead, you won't know. And if you do, surely you know more. Surely you know how I feel the other three hundred and ninety days out of the yahren. But here I am, lighting it.

I think it's for your family mostly. Your father--losing you tore him up inside, you know. Your brother and sister. So many people died that day you got swallowed up in it. And you were so unknown here... You know your father; he won't show his grief. Your brother's guilt is too strong. And your sister's pain too raw, still, her anger too fierce. They don't even talk to each other. Seeing other candles here will help them. It's all I can do.

But some of it is for me... I'm the Colonel, I'm not supposed to have any feelings. At least, I'm allowed to get annoyed, or angry. They spent a lot of time at senior staff college teaching me how to be cold in emergencies, calm when all around me want to lose their heads. I'm the Iron Colonel, I'm the son-of-a-dagget with a tyllium-plated heart, the man who married the service because no woman could wriggle her way inside... But inside I'm a man, and I do.

I do.

You were all like my children, you know. And you especially. You were so much easier to get along with than Apollo, so much easier to know. So sunny and bright. In a way I dreaded having you serve under me, as I didn't your brother or sister, because I was afraid you'd get to me in ways they don't. I'm sure you would have been a handful as an officer--Starbuck comes to mind as the horrible example you seemed determined to follow--but... I loved you.

I'm not Kobolian. Is this part of the point? Is it a way for me to admit my own feelings, show my grief? It's working.

Ah, Zac, Zac, Zac.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Zac. Zac. I miss you.

I miss you so much.

Remember when we were little? Remember when we used to play in the woods together? Remember the creek, all the boulders we used to climb on? How we used to take off our clothes so they wouldn't get wet when we fell in, because we knew we would, and how falling in was part of the fun? And how cold, how freezing cold the water was when we did? Remember lying in the sun trying to dry off and pretending we weren't chilled to the bone? Remember?

I'm colder than that now, Zac. I'm so cold. And there's no sun anymore.

I'm cold, and I'm empty.

I didn't marry Starbuck. He asked me, you were right, but I said no. I was so angry. I blamed him for your death for a while. Oh, don't worry, I couldn't keep it up. It wasn't his fault any more than it was Apollo's. Or yours. It's nobody's fault. Or it's Baltar's, or the Cylons', or god's. But I'm not angry anymore.

I wish I was. I miss it. It kept me warm. And now I'm cold.

Oh, Zac, Zac, I'm so cold I can't even cry. All my tears are frozen. I cried when you died, in the hell-red of bridge emergency lights, but I only cried for a little while. And though I miss you so much I haven't cried since. Not for anything or anyone. Not even for you.

I don't ... feel ... anymore, Zac.

Do you remember? It's all I do now. And everything I remember, there you are. I taught you how to read, how to ride an equinus, how to climb a tree... everything I learned first because I was a yahren older I taught you. And you taught me all the things girls aren't supposed to learn. Remember when we'd sneak out on Natacapra and borrow a boat and drink and sail in the dark? Remember? Remember when we'd climb up on the roof and look at the stars and plan our futures? Remember how we'd talk about vid stars and falling in love?

Remember how you'd call me when I went away to the Academy, and how you'd sneak into my room when you got there? How you'd come to all my fieldball games? How you took me out drinking when I graduated? How I took you when you did? Remember how happy we were when we were assigned together? Remember?

Oh, Zac...

I'm so empty now. I go places and do things and pretend, but I'm so empty... I'm so cold.

I miss you. If you're there, if you can hear me at all, tell me what to do. Make me laugh again, Zac, really laugh. Or make me forget.

No. Not that.

Oh, Zac...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So here it is, your birthday. The big one. Twenty-one.

There's... five candles here, and mine. No cake. Definitely no Aquarian celebration nectar.

No celebration.

Though, to tell you the truth, the nectar has been in the O Club with my name on it for sectares now, and when I leave here I plan to get it, find a corner someplace, and drink every last drop. By myself. And hopefully get drunk enough to go to sleep and not dream.

Normally I don't mind dreaming about you... hurts like hell, but that's how we know we're alive, right? How I know I'm alive anyway. But tonight I don't want to.

And I sure don't want to explain to anybody why I'm getting drunk.

Me, the steady one. The one who doesn't take chances. The one who threw his heart over the moon when he saw you.

Me, the one who's always there, good ol' Boomer, in the background, the supporting cast... The one you saw. The one you loved.

Getting drunk won't solve anything. But it'll make me feel better. For a little while.

But you'd be proud of me: this will be the first time I do. I've held together, gods know how. No matter how many times I've wanted to scream, or throw things, or crawl away somewhere and get too drunk to move, I haven't. I've kept going.

Well, pretty much. I did get careless that time when Apollo was getting married. All I could think about was you, not having you any more, and I stopped following regs. I nearly died. We all nearly died. I know you'd have been pissed off at me for that. I pulled myself back together, though. Too much is riding on us for me to be so self-indulgent, right?

At least, I hope you'd be proud of me. You're the one who picked today as the day we'd tell your family. I hope you would have wanted me to let them keep their shiny image of you, to stand by with my mouth shut, only saying the things your brother's friend would say, the one who didn't know you well, the one who'd only met you a few times.

I need to get drunk today, Zac. Just today.

It's your birthday. And I love you. And I always will.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After the prayer, the priest walked around the empty sanctuary one last time. That's funny... He paused in front of the screen. I could have sworn there were only six candles burning here.

the end