Lt. Boomer's 27th birthday came nine sectares to the day after Lt. Starbuck was transferred to the Galactica. Lt. Starbuck, so far as Boomer could tell, was nearly unchanged from Ensign Starbuck who was virtually identical to Cadet Starbuck, with whom Boomer had shared a room for three very interesting years at Caprican Military Academy.
Which was important because it meant that Boomer knew Starbuck pretty well.
Starbuck, Boomer figured, was not on the fast track, unlike himself. Or their other roommate, now squadron leader, Apollo. Starbuck was in fact the kind of man who was a lieutenant only because you couldn't stay a flight officer for more than a yahren. If you weren't promoted to lieutenant (a rank you could stagnate at) you were kicked out of the service.
But Starbuck wasn't the kind of man anybody with any brains kicked out of the service while there was a war on. Probably not in peacetime either, though peace was an entirely mythical condition to Boomer and one that he, a pragmatic man, found it hard to wrap his mind around. He figured the difference to be that in peacetime you'd probably be locking a Starbuck away for the rest of his life.
But in war--oh, Lords of Kobol, and Ladies too, as Boomer's grandmother had used to say--in wartime Starbuck was invaluable. It wasn't just that he did very well indeed what war really came down to--killing the enemy--it was that he did it with such flair that he was a genuine hero. A public relations dream: a war orphan--probably a Caprican but not for sure so any tribe could think of him as theirs; handsome as a god; young and dashing and happy; looked damned good in the uniform; sounded modest about his achievements when it suited him... yes, all in all Starbuck, if a mediocre serviceman, was the perfect Warrior.
It was no wonder they put him on one of the top three battlestars in the Fleet. Even though her commander might find him a bit of an annoyance at times.
He went into Blue Squadron as a matter of course--the Strike Captain's own. Everybody knew that it was just a matter of sectares before Captain Hafez made colonel and Apollo replaced him--just until the next list came out. So for all practical purposes Blue was Apollo's when Starbuck arrived. With Boomer as his 2IC and de facto squadron leader. Both of them fast-tracking to the top.
While Starbuck fast-tracked to trouble.
He and Apollo had one or two run-ins a secton until the list finally came out. At which point they escalated to three or even four. Everything each of them did seemed calculated to annoy the other. The more Apollo hauled out the book to go by the more Starbuck read between the lines, and the more corners Starbuck cut the more Apollo demanded right angles. Starbuck drank harder and gambled more and Apollo got--if possible--straighter and certainly more vocal about it.
It was the pattern they'd started at CMA carried to extremes. Ridiculous extremes, in fact, in Boomer's opinion. Because he, good friend to them both, was not only caught in the middle of it but fed to the eyeteeth with the whole damned thing.
Capricans, he'd written to his great-uncle back when he was in the Academy, are too damned good at ignoring what they don't want to see. And that wise old man had written back, Sometimes, my boy, you have to rub their noses in it before they admit it's there.
"You know how I am about parties, Apollo," Boomer said comfortably. "After all, you hate them, too."
"Well, if you don't want a party," the dark-haired man asked, "what do you want? 27--that's a big one."
"They're all big in a shooting war," Boomer observed. "But I tell you what--just you and me have a couple of drinks."
"Sounds good," agreed Apollo. "On me, of course. Officers' Club?"
"Lords, no. Everybody would get in on it and it would be a party in no time... Tell you what," he snapped his fingers, "you know Charis--third watch bridge officer? She's on furlon, home leave. She gave me her key code, asked me to water her plants. We could meet there, have a couple of drinks, maybe watch a game if there's one on. She wouldn't mind."
"You're sure she wouldn't mind me being there?"
"The commander's son?" Boomer grinned. "Besides, she and your sister are friends. She wouldn't mind. Trust me."
"That's so much more believable from you than some people," Apollo grinned. "Sounds good. I'll meet you there."
"Bucko, what part of 'no party' didn't you understand?"
"Hey," Starbuck protested, raising his hands in self-defense. "I'm not planning it. I just got invited. I'm warning you."
Boomer wished he knew how Starbuck managed injured innocence so well. It wasn't like he could claim it often for real. Still, this time he was the virtuous party. "Thanks. I wish I knew why people insist on thinking that 'I don't want a party' translated into 'surprise!' I just want to have a couple of drinks, talk... hey, Starbuck?"
"You get me a present yet?"
"You said you didn't want one. I've been taking you at your word."
"I know. And thanks--but, do you want to give me something?"
The blond looked wary. "What?"
"Come have a couple of drinks with me after duty. Maybe play a little two-handed pyramid. Just till the whole party thing dies a natural death."
"I could do that, sure, Boom-Boom." Starbuck looked relieved it wasn't going to involve a cash outlay, though to do him justice Boomer knew that was only because he didn't have any cash at the moment. "Come where? Not the O Club, that's where the party is. And the barracks--you won't be able to hide."
"I've got a friend on home leave. She's got a BOQ room, I've got the key code. I'm supposed to water her plants and stuff. We can go there."
"Great," Starbuck agreed. "And we're even off tomorrow."
Starbuck rang at the door and it slid open. He went inside and paused. The small front room was nearly dark. A flickering light showed through the open door to the sleeping room. He hesitated a centon then said to himself, Boomer? Naah, and crossed over to peer inside. A dozen candles scattered about provided a lightly scented illumination. It was a very nice effect; he'd have to remember it.
Looks like Boom-Boom's made other plans and couldn't reach me, he thought, grinning. Might as well have a drink before I leave.
A bottle of nectar stood on the counter next to two glasses in the tiny service room. Classy. Starbuck looked to see if there was anything else. What he found was a note. Addressed to him, in Boomer's handwriting.
He was reading it for the third time when the door chimed and slid open, admitting Apollo--he could tell by the voice that called, "Boomer?" Starbuck heard the other man go to the sleeping room as he had and apparently reach the same conclusion. Apollo being Apollo, of course, he didn't push open the service room door but tried to leave. Starbuck grinned as the note was proved true: Apollo cursed as the door refused to open for him.
The other man spun around. "Starbuck? What are you doing here--Starbuck, did you--"
"Ah, ah, ah," Starbuck reproved him. "Don't jump to conclusions. Not me. Not this time. Your exec. Here," he proffered the note. "You should read this."
While he did, Starbuck went back into the service room and opened the nectar. When he returned, Apollo was staring pole-axed at the note. Starbuck could remember every word:
Okay, you two. Neither of you can hack a door like I can and you know it, so listen to the Leonid here. I've known you both for ten yahrens now, remember? It's time you stopped all this avoidance and faced reality. It can be a nice place to live if you give it a chance. And before you jump to any conclusions--while you've both confided in me for four yahrens, I'm not sharing any secrets. Just remember what you used to say. Both of you. The best birthday present I could get is a happy Strike Captain--Starbuck, try to relax the man a trifle, okay? And Apollo--give Bucko a reason to throttle back just a little 'cause losing him would not make me happy. Okay? Now, you're stuck till tomorrow. Try talking."Here," Starbuck replaced the note with a glass of nectar. Apollo started and stared at him with green eyes gone very dark in the dim lighting, and then he drained the nectar.
"I don't mind going first," Starbuck said, staking everything on Boomer's hunch. "In the words of the song, Strike Captain, you trouble my dreams."
When no more seemed forthcoming, he went on. "You did ten yahrens ago. You will, assuming I'm still alive, ten--"
He stopped because Apollo's hand was on his lips. "Don't say that. Even as a joke."
Starbuck choked down his first impulse, which was to nibble on those fingers. "We're at war, Apollo," he said. "It's likely enough we'll both die. Almost a certainty for me--you'll make Colonel and--"
"Don't," Apollo repeated. "Starbuck, I know that. I just don't want to hear it. Don't want it said."
"That won't make it not true."
"I know that, too," Apollo said. "Not saying things never makes them not true. It only makes them unsaid. But unsaid things are easier to deal with--"
"Really? I think Boomer's right. This unsaid thing between us is affecting us, and the whole squadron."
"I know," Apollo admitted so softly it was almost inaudible. He reached out and took Starbuck's glass and emptied it. "Is there more of this?"
"I think you've had enough," Starbuck said, taking both glasses and setting them down on an end table with the note. "You don't want to get drunk."
"In liquor lies truth," said Apollo. "You want things not unsaid: I probably won't say them sober."
"Things? Such as?" Starbuck realized they were standing so close they could have kissed without moving their heads more than a centimetron.
"I'm my father's oldest son. We're an old family. Maybe someday..." Apollo seemed to be having trouble breathing. "If Zac marries and has sons... but I'm eldest... maybe..."
He was losing the thought. Starbuck rescued him. "Maybe things could be different if they weren't like they are. But like Boom-Boom said: reality can be just fine."
"I can't promise you forever," Apollo whispered.
"Know what?" Starbuck smiled at him. "I don't believe in forever. I believe in now." He moved his head that centimetron and kissed Apollo. Who moaned into his mouth and then kissed him back.
After some centons of mouths and hands finding very pleasant things to do, Apollo pulled away. "Starbuck, I can't... I have to..."
"You have to do what you have to do when you have to," Starbuck said as if it were obvious. "But until you have to, can't you do what you want?"
"What I want?" Apollo repeated as though it were a radical new idea.
"Yes. What you want. While you can."
"What I want--"
"Yes?" Starbuck encouraged.
"What I want is to haul you into that sleeping room, strip you naked, and fuck you--no. Make love to you all night." He stared at Starbuck almost challengingly, but there was entreaty behind it.
"The only reason I'm not already in there," Starbuck said gently, "is because you said 'haul'. I have to be out here for you to haul me--" The rest of the sentence was lost in the most passionate kiss Starbuck had ever received.
And as Boomer headed for the O Club and his 'surprise' party, he was singing softly but satisfiedly to himself. "Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me..."
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