Starbuck had watched Red and the shuttles depart from his vantage point forward and port of the Fleet. He'd been in a bad mood for several centares after that, snapping at the hapless Giles, who put up with it for so long that Starbuck eventually felt guilty and apologized.
"It's okay, Starbuck," the ensign said. "I'll just take it out on you someday when my life's felgarcarb."
Starbuck laughed. Not that he thought Giles ever would. In a way, he was glad that Boomer had assigned the ex-sergeant to him, because he'd been pretty mean to him right after the Destruction, when he'd been shutting a lot of people out. What was sometimes hard to remember was that Giles, though an ensign, had never been a cadet, but was prior other ranks, and had made flight-sergeant pretty quickly after Shaphora. The NCO-to-officer promotion had been very rare before the Destruction, too rare to hear "ensign" without thinking "kid"... But Giles wasn't a green nineteen-yahren-old like Zac had been; he was twenty-seven, with that core of non-com no-nonsense under a lot of experience, and he didn't take much from most people. Still, for all his quick temper, he'd never taken anything out on Starbuck and wasn't likely to start anytime soon. Starbuck clarified, "It's not my whole life."
"Right," said Giles. "You know I couldn't help but hear that. If you need any spelling with the kid, let me know."
"Thanks," Starbuck said. "What I need right now, though, is time to fantasize about painful deaths for unspecified senior officers."
Giles laughed but spent the rest of the picket shift, not quiet exactly, but not talking to Starbuck, either. Starbuck was glad the ensign had a good voice, since singing to himself seemed to be his preferred method of occupying his time.
When he got back, he hunted up Boomer and demanded all the details on the mission. He came away from that meeting somewhat less disturbed; Apollo hadn't been leaving out anything that pointed at danger, though he intended to have a long heart-to-heart with his beloved about one-sentence summaries of things like this. And, if he could figure out precisely who with, another talk about things arranging themselves so Apollo got to make these decisions without talking it over first.
As soon as they were off he went to pick up Boxey. Deciding that they both needed a pick-me-up, judging by Boxey's slightly mopey expression, he suggested that they eat in the O Club's restaurant. Boxey perked up immediately.
"Dad says I'm not old enough," he said almost proudly. "He says I won't behave."
"Well, he'd better be wrong," Starbuck threatened pleasantly.
"I can behave!"
"Oh, I know you can... it's the 'will' I worry about," Starbuck said, but he never stopped walking towards the O Club and Boxey didn't seem worried.
Over dinner Boxey would-be-casually pumped Starbuck for details about whether Red Squadron was any good. Starbuck was amused by the boy's evident desire to believe that his dad's squadron was the best even though he'd been convinced for over a yahren that Blue was. Starbuck told him stories about some of the things they'd done under Boomer, and he seemed contented.
When they were done, Boxey went to the turboflush, insisting that he was too old to need an escort. And while he was gone, Sheba came in, trailed by a couple of the Pegasus crowd, including Bojay. Standing in the doorway, scanning the room for a table, she saw Starbuck and flushed angrily.
Oh, please, thought Starbuck. He didn't want to deal with her, not with Boxey liable to show up any centon. As usual, his plea was ignored, and Sheba strode over to him, Bojay trying to talk to her and being completely disregarded.
"I'm surprised to see you in here," she started. "What, are you cruising already?"
"Sheba, not now," Starbuck started but she overrode him with the ease of long practice at getting her way and the shrill edge of Cain's daughter in her voice.
"Why not now?" she asked but didn't give him time to answer. "I'd have thought you were the man in that relationship. God knows your catamite never managed anything with me."
"Sheba." That was Bojay.
She ignored him, too. "Too bad he's not the captain anymore, though"
Bojay's voice was sharp enough to make her turn around to shut him up. But it was she who shut up, staring. Boxey, even standing on the chair next to Bojay with his hand on Bojay's arm, wasn't quite as tall as the pilot, but he was tall enough that Sheba couldn't miss seeing him. She flushed. "Look, Boxey, I, I didn't mean" she stammered, and then tossed her hair, glared impartially at Starbuck and Bojay both, and stomped out.
Starbuck would have rather Boxey hadn't heard any of that, but he had to admit Bojay had shut her down effectively, given the situation. Now the brown-haired man grabbed Boxey under the arms and swung him down off the chair. "Here," he said, reaching into his pocket and handing the boy some cubits. "Why don't you go get you and Starbuck something?"
"Thank you, sir," Boxey said with the polite sweetness he reserved for strangers who gave him moneya new category, Starbuck hopedand scampered off before Starbuck could tell him to give the cubits back.
"Thanks, Bojay," Starbuck said.
"Yeah. Look, uh, Sheba..." He bit his lower lip, obviously aware there wasn't much to say. Starbuck waited, curious as to what he'd come up with. If he still wanted her after that little display, Starbuck was going to start believing in mind control. The Bojay he'd known before wouldn't have given Sheba the time of day, and while this Bojay was differentto say the leasthe couldn't be that different. That was pod person different. "She's overwrought. She wouldn't have said anything like that in front of the kid. She's..." His voice trailed off.
Daddy's spoiled princess who can't believe something didn't go her way? Starbuck thought but didn't say. Instead, he just nodded and made a noncommittal noise.
Bojay glanced at Boxey, still at the counter. "Look, Starbuck, I want to say something: we aren't getting along well any more, I know that. You've changed, or I have, or," he made a vague gesture, "something. And ApolloI don't like him, either. But I never did. Ever. Your relationship means nothing to me. You understand what I'm saying?"
"Yeah," Starbuck said. "You may be a bastard, but you're not a bigot."
"Right," Bojay nodded, his hazel eyes clear and steady. "And you and hewell, you're a lot of things, but you're not perverts. Nothing's changed here."
"Nothing," Starbuck nodded. "That's good to know."
Bojay started to leave, and then turned back. "It's not right," he said.
"What?" Starbuck asked, genuinely uncertain.
"Him losing the captaincy for this." Bojay paused, and then committed himself. "He wouldn't have if he'd Sealed with her. She told me she talked to the Commander about it, in case that was... Anyway. It's not right."
Starbuck felt like somebody had hit him in the stomach, hard. He was so surprised he couldn't think of anything to say. Bojay didn't seem to expect an answer, only turned to go. Boxey's arrival delayed him a moment.
"Thank you, lieutenant," Boxey said with melting eyes and enough sweetness to give Bojay diabetes. "I bought you a mushie, too." He held out the sticky yellow square.
Bojay took it in the spirit in which it was seemingly offered, though Starbuck happened to know he hated mushies. "I'd better go," he said. "I am on duty..." That was a lie, actually, Green was on their first off day, but it got him out of the conversation.
"See you around, Boj," Starbuck said, having found his voice.
"Yeah..." Apparently Bojay couldn't figure how to end that, so he just shrugged a shoulder at them and left.
"I like him," Boxey said.
"You must have had some change left over," Starbuck said.
"I like him, anyway. Sheba was awful... what did she mean, about Dad being a," he paused, trying to remember the words.
"Don't mind her," Starbuck said. "She's mad at your dad"
"I know," Boxey said. "She wanted him to marry her instead of you."
"Right. So don't worry about what she said, it was just her being"
"A sore loser?"
"Nailed it," Starbuck said admiringly. "Of course, your dad's quite something to lose."
"Well, I'm glad she lost. She's bossy."
"Oh, nailed her again. But I don't think your dad ever really wanted to marry her."
"I guess not... I didn't want him to."
"Did you tell him?"
Boxey shrugged. "Nope. You can't stop your dad from marrying somebody. You can stop your mom, if you want, but not your dad... except, I guess, if he's marrying another man."
"Oh?" Starbuck looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"Tomai's brother Jaxon said, if your mom is marrying a guy you don't like, you can tell her he's peculiar."
"He did that?" Starbuck made a note to check those kids out.
Boxey shrugged. "I don't know... Starbuck, can I ask you something?"
"Sure, kiddo. Anything. I may not have the answer, but you can always ask."
"Are you going to stay with us?"
"Why do you ask that?"
"Everybody says you won't. That you never stay with anybody."
"Well," Starbuck admitted. "That's true. I never have. But I'm going to stay with your dad. That's true, too. And I guess that sounds like a paradox"
"What kind of docks?" Boxey interrupted. His conversations with Starbuck often proceeded in fits and starts like that.
Starbuck paused. "No. A paradox... It's from Cancerian. The same 'dox' as in orthodox, which is what your dad is."
"What?" Boxey looked suspicious and acquisitive at the same time. He loved getting new words.
"Orthodox means right opinion or right thinking. Which is your dad."
"And Grandfather? I think I heard Dad call him that once."
"He might have. But your grandfather is ultra-orthodox. Actually, he's more homodox."
Boxey wrinkled his nose.
Starbuck grinned, liking the sound of it. "Yeah, that's it: same thinking."
"Are you... no. So what are you? Nonorthodox? Unorthodox?"
"It's unorthodox, and I've been called that. But what I really am is heterodox, which means other thinking."
"Okay... so what's paradox?"
"Outside thinking. Or beside thinking, maybe... anyway, a paradox is something that sounds like it can't be true. And you have to use heterodoxy to figure it out."
"I don't understand."
"Here's a classic: What if I told you that everything I say is a lie?"
Boxey sat and thought about it. Starbuck watched the struggle mirrored on the boy's face and marveled again at the way he zig-zagged his way to the point. It drove Apollo, that most linear of men, nuts, though, thought Starbuck, he should at least appreciate that Boxey stayed on a line, however crooked. He was always complaining that Starbuck jumped...
"But if everything you say is a lie, then that's a lie, and that means everything you say is true, so that has to be true, but then everything is a lie... It doesn't make sense!"
"Ah-ah," said Starbuck. "One little tweak. The opposite of everything is a lie may be everything is true, but what if only some things are true?"
Boxey thought on that and then grinned. "I see!" he said excitedly. "It's a lie if you even only tell the truth once! So it can be a lie without being true!"
"Exactly. Heterodoxy is the way to go," Starbuck grinned back at him. "So, as to the 'am I going to stay' paradox"
"I see that, too," said Boxey. "Just because you never did doesn't mean you can't."
"Exactly," Starbuck said, satisfied. Boxey was always just that little bit happier about it if he'd worked it out himself. "I never did, because I never wanted to, because I just wanted your dad."
Boxey smiled at him. "He's pretty great."
"Yes, he is. And I'll tell you a secret, Boxey: I loved him the first time I met him."
"Really?" Boxey sparkled. "Me, too." Then he paused. "Did he"
"Nope," Starbuck lied cheerfully, knowing his credit was good enough to carry it off. "He didn't. We were good friends, really good friends. He loved your mom before he loved me."
"Did you want him to marry her?"
"Of course. When you love someone, you want them to be happy. Your mom would have made him very happy; she was a nice woman."
Boxey looked pensive. Something else Apollo complained aboutmercurialism. "Just go with it," Starbuck had advised him, but just going with anything wasn't in Apollo's comfort zone. "I'm not glad she's dead," Boxey said, "but I'm glad you're marrying him. Is that okay?"
"Of course it's okay," Starbuck said. "None of us are glad she's dead, but she is. You can't spend your life in the past. You have to keep going, and that means things change. Your dad's not glad she's dead, either, but he's moving on."
"Good. Can I have another mushie?"
"I have some cubits left!"
"Still no," Starbuck said cheerfully. "I don't care if Bojay gave you enough for a hundred mushies, you're not eating another thing till bedtime."
Boxey pouted, his lower lip outthrust enough to trip over it.
"Come on, let's go. You've got homework, right? And your vid-program?"
Boxey sighed, got up, and then brightened. "Tonight's the night they're going to try and rescue Darius from the dungeon!" He chattered about the show all the way back to their quarters.
Starbuck listened with half an ear. Sheba he'd already discounted, but Bojay's newsthat was something very different indeed. There was absolutely no way to get Adama to admit it, he was sure of that, or Sheba for that matter, and Boj was hearsay, but... if Apollo were to find out. Well. Fur would fly.
Fur might fly anyway. It hurt Starbuck that Apollo had had to give up so much for him. Not just his father, but his, well, his birthright. Everything he'd worked for, lived for, sacrificed for. Gone. And for no good reason. Apparently for no reason at all. It made Starbuck mad just thinking about it.
Question was, would it do any good at all to tell Apollo? Or would it just make his estrangement from Adama irretrievable? And which outcome did Starbuck even want?
He hadn't decided by the time Boxey settled down in front of "Tales from the Word". Starbuck grabbed an ale out of the cooler and settled himself in the front room with the door to Boxey's room shut. He'd pulled one of Apollo's books off the wall storage unit, and he was paging through it, trying to decide what was so damned fascinating about the romantic adventures of a thief in the Dark Ages that the book should be so well thumbed, and failing miserably. He wanted to think it was Serina's, but unfortunately for that theory Apollo's name was written in the front of it. He was about to put it back and try for a tech manualwhich would at least be usefulwhen the door chimed.
Adama stood in the hall. He glared at Starbuck as if he were trespassing. Starbuck resisted the urge to shut the door in his face. "I want to see my grandson," he announced.
"Ah." Starbuck paused. Well, this was interesting. Apollo hadn't said not to let him in. On the other hand, Adama had disowned Apollo. Damn. He couldn't make this decision. He couldn't drive a wedge between themmore than he already hadApollo would have to make that decision. "Come in," he said, stepping back. "Boxey's watching the vid."
"Hasn't he got schoolwork?" Adama said disapprovingly.
"He'll do it after," Starbuck said. Adama's eyebrows drew together. "He's watching 'Tales from the Word'," Starbuck said sweetly. "They're rescuing Darius from the dungeon tonight. But I'll get him."
"I want to talk to him alone, Lieutenant."
Oh, nice. Starbuck could appreciate that. Not rude, avoids the name, pulls rank... yeah. He hated it, but he could appreciate it. Of course, he wasn't sure what to do. He could walk into the sleeping room and shut the door, which would rub Adama's nose in his son's sex life which might be counterproductive... damn, Apollo, why didn't you leave me notes for this emotional minefield? On the other hand, he was just paranoid enough to envision Adama taking Boxey off in one of those custodial disputes that he, Starbuck, would lose. And Apollo would kill him if that happened. He didn't think Boxey wanted to go, but... Damn. We should have gotten married three days ago.
"Not a problem, Commander," he said cheerfully. "I've got to run out to the food store anyway. I'll let Boxey know you're here." Because you're the guest.
He went into Boxey's room. The boy was lying on his bed, watching the vid, with Muffit lying next to him. "He got up by himself," Boxey said.
"I'm not getting into that," said Starbuck. "But your grandfather's here. He wants to talk to you."
Boxey screwed up his face. "Do I have to?"
"Kiddo, he is your grandfather."
"But he hates you," Boxey said. "And Dad."
"I don't think he hates your dad. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think he's just upset with him." Starbuck sat down on the bed, shoving Muffit aside. "He's still your grandfather, and he wants to talk to you, and I think you should. He wants to talk to you alone, so I'm going to be out in the hall"
"Starbuck! I mean, Pop! This is your home, too," Boxey protested. "He can't make you go outside."
"He's not. I don't want him trying to walk out with you, okay, kiddo?"
"I won't go with him."
"But this way, I'll be there, just in case."
Boxey sat up and hugged Starbuck fiercely. "You'll always be here, won't you? From now on?"
"You bet, kiddo. As much as humanly possible."
"Pop, what if he says bad things?"
"Then you don't have to talk to him ever again," Starbuck said, making the decision. What the hell. Boxey was his kid, too. "But talk to him now, okay?"
Boxey watched Starbuck go out the door and then turned to look at his grandfather. "Hello, Grandfather," he said.
"Hello, Boxey." His grandfather smiled at him and sat down on the couch, gesturing for Boxey to join him. A little warily, he did. "Where are you spending the night tonight, Boxey?
"Right here, sir." Pop said, always say 'sir' when you think you might be going to be insolent.
"Alone?" His grandfather raised his eyebrows. "You're not old enough to spend the night alone, let alone get yourself up and fed and to instruction. You'd better come with me."
"Thank you, sir, but Dad and Pop"
"My dad and my pop. I can't call them both 'Dad' after all," Boxey explained, wondering why no grown up had figured that out, and why they mostly didn't understand it even after he pointed it out.
"Lieutenant Starbuck is not your father."
"He will be after he marries Dad. He already signed the papers when they got their marriage license." That too had to be explained to everyone, though not to Dad and Pop anyway. He sighed with the burden of it all. "So I'm practicing."
"Don't practice with me," his grandfather instructed him.
"Yes, sir," Boxey agreed. Pop had said, after all, he wouldn't have to talk to his grandfather any more if he didn't want to. "Anyway, I can stay here because Dad and Starbuck made 'rangements. Starbuck will pick me up from instruction if Dhani's mom doesn't and he'll stay here till he has to go back to the barracks" he shot his grandfather a dark look "but I'll already be asleep then."
"Oh, no, sir. 'Cause Aunt Theni's going to sleep over here and get me breakfast and take me and Dhani to instruction on our days. So you see, it's all right. I won't be alone." He blinked at his grandfather, making what his dad called 'big eyes'.
"Athena agreed to this? Hmph." His grandfather looked like a beast in one of the animated vids he'd seen at instruction last sectarean ursine. Boxey giggled. He looked like a peeved ursine, actually. Grandfather might be a little mad at Aunt Athena, but Boxey wasn't too worried: she wasn't any easy mark, Pop said, and Dad said she gave better than she got. Boxey remembered when he'd thought that meant she must get really awful presents since she'd given him shirts for his birthday... he sighed at how young he used to be.
His grandfather had gotten up and was walking around the room like he was trying to think of something to say. Boxey was about to say he should go do his schoolwork when his grandfather stopped in front of the pictures on the wall unit. "Where did this come from?" he asked. He sounded very mad.
Boxey got up and looked. The only new pictures were Pop's, the Thorn Forest and him and Grandmother. And Dad had stuck the Thorn Forest down where even Boxey couldn't hardly see it and anyway Grandfather was looking at the other one. Boxey didn't know why that would make him mad; didn't he like seeing Grandmother? "Don't you recognize it?" Boxey asked. "It's on Naiacap."
His grandfather stared at the picture for several centons and then took it off the shelf and laid it face down on the kava table. "You are coming home with me, Boxey," he said. "Get your things."
"But Starbuck is here"
"He won't be. With Red Squadron deployed, Blue has to stay in the barracks, on standby," his grandfather said. "He can't be here."
"Then I'm going to call Aunt 'Theni," Boxey said, ignoring the angry look his grandfather gave him. "She'll come early."
"If so, of course you can stay here."
Ooooo, Boxey knew that tone. Grandfather didn't think she would. But she would. He ran for the comm unit in his dad's sleeping room, hearing his grandfather call the bridge on his wristcomm but not trying to listen. He punched in his aunt's number. The comm chimed and chimed but there was no answer... that was it. She wasn't home, and Grandfather knew it. Boxey started shaking. He didn't think he was scared... he must be angry. Gosh. He'd never been so angry he shook before. Oh, gosh, he thought, and then muttered, "Oh, frack." He looked around to see if anybody had heard him, and then he said it again. It felt good.
He didn't want to go with Grandfather. And he didn't want Pop to get in a lot of trouble. There had to be someone who would come if he called them. Someone. Not Dhani's mom or dad, his dad was being a real dumbhead, Dhani had said. Not Boomer or Jolly or Giles or anybody like that, they were all in Blue. Certainly not Sheba, he wouldn't have wanted her anyway, and Cassie was probably just as mad at Pop as Sheba was at Dad. Wait. What about that nice pilot from this afternoon? He'd said he was on duty, but that wasn't true. It wasn't a lie, really, it was just a grown-up thing, the opposite of asking you 'don't you have something to do, young man?' Just a way to go away. 'Cause he was Green Squadron Leader, Boxey knew all the squadrons and their schedules and Green was off today. Dad didn't really like him, but Dad thought he liked Sheba and he didn't. Oh, boy, Boxey grinned remembering how the man had muttered at her before picking him up so she could see he was there; he really didn't like her. And Boxey knew that people who didn't like your enemy were the good guys. Plus, he and Pop knew each other...
He punched in the number to the barracks, hoping the lieutenant was there.
"Can I speak to Lieutenant Bojay, please?"
"Hey, Bojay!" the man called. "You dating someone with a kid?"
"No," Boxey heard faintly, and then, more loudly, "Well, some kid's calling you."
Bojay came on. "This is Bojay."
"Lieutenant, this is Boxey. Lieutenant Apollo's son, do you remember me?"
"Yes, of course. Is something the matter?"
Boxey bit his lip. He was pretty sure his dad wouldn't like him doing this, but it was all he could think of. And he liked Bojay, anyway; the man had kind eyes. So, he took a deep breath and said, "Grandfather is making Starbuck go to the barracks early and my aunt isn't in her quarters, and I don't wanna go with him, please could you come and stay here till she comes? She'll be here by a little before midnight, and anyway you're off tomorrow, I know, 'cause I know all the squadrons."
"Whoa, wait a centon. You're asking me to come stay with you? Starbuck know you're calling?"
"No, he doesn't know what Grandfather's doing. Grandfather's a bully, but he can't get mad at you... can he?" Boxey suddenly had second thoughts.
"Nah," Bojay said easily. "It's okay. And Starbuck'll find out any centon; it just scrolled up here... I'll come right on over. Hang on."
"Thanks," Boxey said. "Really really really thanks."
"Okay, I'm on my way." The comm line cut off.
Boxey took a deep breath and tried to stop shaking. His grandfather called from the front room, "Get your things, now." He wasn't even pretending like he didn't know! Boxey didn't answer, just went into his room and shut the door, hoping he could stay in there long enough that Lieutenant Bojay would come.
Eventually, his grandfather called him again. "Boxey! Come along."
He took a deep breath and walked into the front room. His grandfather was standing near the door, holding Pop's picture. "I'm not going."
"I'm not. Someone's coming and I'll be okay and you're being mean, anyway. I'm not. And you can't have that picture, it's not yours!" He grabbed for it and tried to pull it away.
"Boxey! Behave yourself!"
"I don't have to!" He pulled on the picture. "You're not my real grandfather and I don't have to listen to you!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"You're not! You told my dad he wasn't your son anymore so I'm not your grandson and I don't have to listen and give me back Pop's picture!" He yanked extra hard and it came away from the commander, and Boxey went staggering across the room just as the door opened.
Bojay walked down the hall, wondering why the kid had called him. He must have given him more cubits that afternoon than he'd realized. An equally intriguing question, of course, was why had he said yes.
Though to Bojay, who knew the answer, it wasn't particularly intriguing. Damn, but the kid had sounded scared. The commander was definitely trying to break up that family, whether incidental to breaking up the marriage or not Bojay didn't know, and didn't much care. Kids should stay with their fathers, unless those fathers were trying to kill them. And from what everyone said, Apollo was a good father.
So, what the hell... Bojay couldn't have said no. He turned the corridor and saw Starbuck leaning up against the wall. He grinned to himself; this would be the last time the commander got courtesy like that from the blond pilot, or everything Bojay remembered about Bucko was totally wrong, not just some of it...
"Bad news, Starbuck," he said.
Starbuck straightened instantly, worry coming into his blue eyes. "What?"
"Sorry, not that bad. But the commander's just hoicked Blue into alert-two status. I'm guessing he's gonna give you about ten centons before he has security hunting you down. You have seriously pissed the man off."
"Oh, frack," Starbuck swore. "I am seriously outgunned... Apollo's gonna kill me."
"Relax. I'm here."
"You're here? I mean, I see that, but what"
"I'm gonna stay with the kid till his aunt shows. He called me at the barracks. You'd better get on."
"He called you?"
"Yeah, I must've impressed him as a good sort."
"I know why he called you, but" Starbuck's sense apparently caught up with his mouth.
"Why'd I come? I guess I was just raised not to let kids down." Bojay shrugged. "No big deal."
"Yes, it is," Starbuck contradicted him. "Thanks."
"Get on," Bojay said.
"Yeah... I mean it, Boj. Thanks." Starbuck reached over and keyed the door open, and then left.
Bojay walked into a scene from a melodrama. The boy and the commander were playing tugawar with what looked like a picture, and the boy was yelling, "I'm not your grandson and I don't have to listen and give me back Pop's picture!" With the final word, the boy won the struggle and came staggering across the room. He heard the door, looked around, and ran to Bojay like he'd seen his savior.
"Commander, good evening," Bojay heard himself say. Automatically his hand reached to cup the dark brown head buried against his thigh.
"Lieutenant." The commander had regained his composure. "Are you here to stay with my grandson?"
"Yes, Commander. I'm off tomorrow, so I can stay as long as need be, in case Lieutenant Athena is late."
The commander's eyes flickered; he was reviewing his options.
"Boxey, why don't you run on into your room and get ready for bed?" Bojay suggested.
"Yes, sir," Boxey said softly, thrust the picture he held into Bojay's hand, and ran into his room, shutting the door behind him.
"I can even get him off to instruction in the morning, if necessary."
The commander yielded. He had thought, Bojay was sure, of calling a full subalert one, putting every pilot either in the barracks or the ready room, but he didn't have the... the face for it. Cain would have done it, but, as Bojay had come to realize lately, Cain had been a raving lunatic, with a crew barely more in touch with reality than he was. Adama was pissed as all seven hells, but he wasn't crazy. "Very well, lieutenant; I'm holding you responsible."
The commander's eyes went to the picture Bojay was holding. The kid had good instincts; if Adama had asked for it, saying it was his, Bojay would have been stuck for an answer, but he didn't. Instead, he just walked out.
Cach. The utterly taboo expletive of Bojay's youth came to his mind and almost to his lips, but he remembered the kid in time. Not that he'd know what it meant, but he might say it in front of someone who did. Instead, he glanced at the pictureStarbuck and a blonde on a beach somewhere, odd choiceand put it in the blank spot on the shelf.
The door to the boy's room opened. He looked out almost shyly. "Thank you for coming," he said. "I didn't know who else to call who wasn't in Blue Squadron so they couldn't be here either."
"That's okay," Bojay said without thinking. "I know how it is wanting to stay home."
The kid's eyes flared with curiosity and Bojay cursed to himself, but the boy was on good manners or something because all he said was, "I'll go back in my room and not bother you. Pop bought ale, it's in the cooler, and I know where Dad keeps the ambrosa."
I'll bet you do. "Ale's good. And don't worry about bothering me. It would take more than you to bother me."
The kid grinned. Plainly he thought that was an endearment. "Want to watch the end of 'Tribal Legends' with me? It's almost over, but we could see the last ten centons."
"You look old enough to have homework."
"Dad lets me do that after. As long as I do do it." He cocked his head and asked, cunningly, "Do you understand fractions?"
"Not a bit," Bojay lied cheerfully.
The boy laughed and said, "Will you tell me a story, Lieutenant? When I go to bed, I mean?"
"Sure." Why not... try to think of one, Boj.
When he went in to tuck the kid upup? was that right?he was startled by the oddest noise he'd heard in a long time.
"Shut up, Muffy," the boy said. "He's our friend. That's Muffy," he gestured at a fur-and-steel monstrosity crouched under his desk. "He's my dagget."
"What breed is he?" Bojay asked soberly.
"He's a Wilkerhound!" Boxey cackled, rolling around on the bed. After he calmed down, he said, "He's not a real dagget, of course. He's more like a toy. But Dad gave him to me a long time ago, when I was little, cause my real dagget ran away. Dad's real proud of Muffy even though he acts grumpy sometimes. Dad, I mean."
"I figured." Bojay put the toe of his boot on the drone's back and scratched experimentally. Of course, nothing happened.
"My dagget used to get all blissed out when I did that," Bojay said, remembering.
"What happened to him?"
"She died. A long time ago."
"In the Destruction?"
"No." Bojay wished he hadn't brought it up. "A long time before that. When I wasn't that much older than you. Daggets don't live as long as people, after all. Now, time for bed."
Boxey climbed under the covers and blinked angel-eyes up at him. "Will you tell me a story now?"
"Sure," Bojay said, surrendering to the inevitable. "What do you want to hear?" Like I'll know what you ask for.
"Anything," he said promptly. "Except not religious."
"Okay. I'll tell you about Arianwen."
"Is that a girl?" he asked dubiously.
"Girls can't have stories?"
"Is it mushy?"
"Forty-two people get killed."
"Neat!" Boxey wriggled into good listening position.
Bojay launched into the story of Arianwen, the famous Piscon bandit princess of the Dark Ages. He figured any boy being raised by two men could use the reminder that women were people, though from what he'd heard of Athena, she'd make sure he knew. By the time he got to the unavoidable 'mushy' partArianwen's romance with the third princess, Kilhonathe story had been more than exciting enough to keep Boxey from even protesting. Or so Bojay thought, anyway.
As he finished, "so she mounted Kilhona on the silverwhite Moon Mare and herself on the black Night Stallion, and they rode off into the forest," Boxey interrupted.
"Thirty-seven people who got killed. You said forty-two."
Bojay shook his head. "Are you always this literal?"
"Just when they thought they had escaped the evil king, five more guards appeared and Arianwen, in a furious swordfight, killed them all. Then she mounted Kilhona on the silverwhite Moon Mare and herself on the black Night Stallion, and they rode off into the forest and lived"
"Happily Ever After even with mushy stuff 'cause they were married."
"Even with," Bojay agreed. "The End. Okay?"
"Okay." He grinned.
"Go to sleep."
"Yes, sir," he grinned again and closed his eyes.
Bojay cut out the lights and went into the front room. After a moment's consideration, he darkened that room and left a light on in the service room and sat on the couch, thinking about the day.
Bojay hated thinking. He was happiest when life didn't require it, when someone just told him what to do and left him alone to do it. It wasn't that he couldn't think, that thinking was too hard. It was that thinking was dangerous. In his experience, thinking led to pain far more often than not. He'd loved the Pegasus, where thinking was actively discouraged. Even making captain, six sectares after Molecay, hadn't meant he'd had to think, not the way Cain managed things; it had just been like being leader of a fairly large squadron. And he'd avoided people and situations on the Galactica that threatened to make thinking necessary, more than happy to revert to lieutenant...
But now he was stuck. True, when the kid had called, he'd just reacted, not thought, but since then... especially with the commander. He sighed. With that involuntary pass of his hand over his ear that he wasn't even aware of he kicked off his shoes and swung his feet up on the couch.
It was a nice kid, though. Sheba had complained about Boxey, saying he was spoiled, whiny, a brat. Maybe he'd been on his company manners, and it had certainly taken balls the kid shouldn't have grown yet to call like he had, but the only spoiled, whiny brat Bojay had seen lately wasn't Apollo's kid.
That had been the proverbial cold water in the face. He dug his shoulders into the cushions. Goddess, but he hated the first days anywhere, and now he'd gone and forced himself to start over when he didn't have to. Too bad there wasn't a moon to blame his madness on.
But some things just weren't right. He sighed, closed his eyes, and hid in the darkness waiting there.
Athena glared at the turbolift control panel as if that could make it come faster. She could not believe how late she was. It was almost two...
She wasn't even sure how she'd managed to end up on the Rising Star with Cassie in the first place. At least Cassie hadn't been as bad as Sheba, who had cornered her while she was waiting for the medtechAh, yes. That was how they'd ended up on the StarSheba was confined to the Galactica. It had been a full-fledged retreat, as desperate as the fleet's. One more thing to lay at her father's door: his attitude apparently made Sheba think Athena wanted nothing more than the chance to abuse Apollo.
It was so odd, Athena thought, pushing the button again. She really did think Apollo had a lot to answer for in re his behavior toward Sheba. But the longer the Viper pilot had ranted, the less Athena wanted to blame her brother and the more she wanted to congratulate him on his narrow escapeand perhaps schedule him for a psych eval for ever having gotten involved in the first place.
But Cassie had been bad enough. Alternating between drunken, well, maybe that was harsh, sniffling about her life being over, nastily clinical diagnoses of all Starbuck's shortcomings as a boyfriend, and assertions that she'd been neither interested nor surprised, she had nearly driven Athena to drinking far more than she should, herself.
Yes, she liked Cassie and felt sorry for her, but perhaps unnaturally she liked Starbuck better, and anyway Cassie had had her chance. At least twice. And any woman who'd pick Cain over Starbuck... well. Enough said.
But Cassie had been impossible to get away from. And so drunk that when Athena had finally gotten her to move, she'd made them miss the next shuttle. And she'd been in such bad shape that Athena had been compelled to take her home; gods knew who she'd have latched onto otherwise. Athena looked at her wristchrono and swore again. Please let Starbuck have had the sense to leave Boxey asleep in his room and go to the barracks before he and Boomer got into all kinds of trouble.
Finally. She ducked through the lift door and trotted down the hallway to key herself into Apollo's quarters. The front room was dark but light spilled in from the service room. Gods. She couldn't believe it. He was still here, asleep on the couch. Without bothering with the lights she strode to the couch and peremptorily shook him. "Starbuck! Get"
She stopped. Oh, gods. It wasn't Starbuck. Lords of Kobol knew, she was more than passingly familiar with the feel of him in the dark and this body coming awake under her importunate hand wasn't his. It was thinner, more angular, tenser and more abrupt in its movementsthough that might be due to the manner of its awakening. "Oh, my God," she said, "I am sorry. I didn't meanI thought you were Starbuck still hereI'm sorry I'm lateOh." She stopped babbling with an effort; maybe she had drunk too much. "Lights."
Sleepy hazel eyes blinked at her from a good-looking, clean-cut face under tousled brown hair. She should know him. She really should. "Bojay." The name came first and the surprise just enough later not to show up in her voice. "I'm sorry."
"That's all right," he said. "I think I fell asleep at nine."
"Nine?" she said. "Starbuck just left you here?" That opportunistic...
"No," he yawned and shook his head. "The commander ran him back to barracks a couple of centares before thatI don't know why," he added, sitting up. "I came over to watch Boxey so he could stay here. I guess I just fell asleep."
"Ooooo," Athena growled. Obviously, whatever Apollo thought about Bojay, Starbuck trusted him, so she felt no compunction about saying, "Father is being such a complete boray about this. Thank you so much and I'm so sorry I'm late."
"It's all right," he said again. "And I think Boxey annoyed the commander, and there was something about this picture, too." He gestured.
Athena looked. "Oh, my gods," she said softly. She picked up the picture and sat down without thinking next to Bojay. "Oh, my gods." She ran her fingers across the image, and it blurred as she blinked back tears.
"Are you all right?" he asked worriedly.
"Oh, yes," she said, looking up at him and trying to smile. "It's... it's exactly how I try to remember her. And Starbuck... how he could make her laugh. She loved him so much, like another son. Like a right son. I meanwe, her own children, we were all so obsessed with Father. Well, no; Zac just was everything he should have been, without trying or caring. But I tried so hard to be what he wanted and it never mattered because I was a girl, but I didn't try to please Mother because she just always was, you know? And Apollo, he didn't want to be anything Father wanted him to be, he just wanted to be what he wanted... did that even make sense?" She bit her lip, looking down at the frozen moment of happiness. "But she loved Starbuck the very first time Apollo brought him home for a four-day furlon from the Academy." She touched the picture again, Ila's laughing eyes. "And he loved her, oh, he adored her more than we did. We loved her, but she was so second to Father. But not for him. She called him her golden gift-son... This must be after Semtek. He looks about twenty-five, doesn't he? And that's Naiacap. She took him to Naiacap after Semtek, she wrote me..." She recollected herself. "I'm sorry. You're being so thoughtful and I'm boring you with old family stuff."
"Truthfully? I'm anything but bored."
She looked back at him, into his hazel eyes. "How kind," she said automatically.
"Probably not that, either," Bojay said.
They looked at each other for several centons. "I should... really... get some sleep," she said finally. "I have to get Boxey up in the morning."
"Yes," he said meaninglessly, and then, "I told them I could come back this evening. If necessary. If you had plans."
"Maybe you'd like to make some? Dinner? At the O Club? We could bring Boxey if..." he trailed off uncertainly.
"I'd like that, Bojay," she said. "Very much."
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