The Lieutenant's Daughter

part two


Starbuck walked into the childcare center nearly a centare later than usual. It had been a long patrol and he was tired. But it had been a good one—uneventful, just flying ahead of the Fleet, relaxed and lost in the experience. And then, out of nowhere, Apollo's voice in his ear, "This is what it's all about, isn't it? Deep space exploration."

Starbuck was never more grateful for the habit of chatter, since the fact that Apollo was initiating a non-work-related, non-nagging conversation was startling. He'd take part in them, especially if others were around, but it had been several sectares since he had started one of their old discussions. "I hope you're keeping an eye out for something a bit smaller than new worlds to explore."

"That's your job, Starbuck."

"General paranoia? I can do that."

"That's why I keep you around," Apollo said.

Starbuck could hear Apollo's sharply indrawn breath as he heard the words he'd just said. He wasn't sure exactly what to say in response so he went with his instinct, presuming on yahrens of knowing the other man, and just opened his mouth and let words come out. "And here I always thought it was my charming personality and dashing good looks. Or is it the other way around?" Halfway through the sentence he decided he'd lost his mind.

Then he heard Apollo laughing. "You really are an original, aren't you?"

"I try," Starbuck said with relief.

"Starbuck... I'm sorry." The words came across the headset, traveling across metrons of cold empty space between them, slightly halting, entirely heartfelt.

"About what?" Starbuck asked, trying to keep his own voice calm.

"I don't love you the way you want me to."

"I know that. I didn't mean to tell you—"

"Hey, Starbuck, you'd better let me finish. It's taken me a long time to get started." Apollo laughed his self-deprecating laugh. "If I stop, who knows when I'll get back to it? I'm sorry because I reacted badly. I didn't mean to hurt you... I do love you, Starbuck. Just not 'like that'."

Starbuck could hear the quotes around the phrase.

"I hope I never did anything to make you think otherwise. And I hope you can forgive me for my bad behavior over the last few sectares."

Starbuck waited but that seemed to be it. "It's my fault," he said breezily. "I should have kept my mouth shut. I never planned to say anything to you, because I know you don't share the feeling. Nothing to forgive."

"Well, that's my fault. I was on your case about the baby... well, her mother, really. And that's not my business. And I had no business implying your private life was interfering with your job performance."

"Well, that's true," Starbuck conceded magnanimously.

Apollo laughed again. "Your job performance was always sub-standard."

"Hey, I resent that."

"But you don't deny it."

"I'm not dignifying it with a denial."

Apollo laughed. Starbuck couldn't remember the last time he'd made Apollo laugh, really laugh, twice in a conversation let alone three times. They'd gone on to talk about fatherhood, deep-space exploration, and whether they still had time to get into the upcoming Triad championships — "that'll depend on whether I can convince childcare that Triad is part of my duty schedule."

"I'll tell 'em it is," Apollo had said.

Starbuck had taken a gamble then. "So," he'd said casually, as if the answer didn't matter, "you want to stop by after we get off?"

"Sure," Apollo had said; he'd even sounded relieved. "I have to pick up Boxey, but you don't mind if he comes? He's been missing seeing you."

"No, I don't mind Boxey. When did I ever mind him?" He'd seen Boxey only a couple of times in the past half-yahren, briefly, and once at Athena's for lunch.

"I can think of a few occasions," Apollo teased.

And that had been damned good to hear.

So now he felt tired but good as he went to pick up Zephyr, Apollo having headed further down the hall to collect his son. He looked around the infants' play area and spotted her, playing with some soft blocks. "Zeffie! Daddy's here."

"Hi, lieutenant," Ilestra popped up from nowhere, as she often seemed to. "Wait here a centon," she urged him.

He glanced at her and then back at Zephyr, who had pulled herself to her feet by using the blocks' storage box, the way she'd been using the kava table or a chair at home over the past several sectons. Now she stood there, balancing uncertainly, and apparently giving serious thought to walking. He looked back at Ilestra. "Has she been walking?"

"Not yet," she said. "But she will, real soon. I thought she might for you. You shouldn't miss that first step if you can avoid it."

He realized she was right. He shouldn't. He took a couple of quick steps towards Zephyr and got down on one knee, holding out his hands. "Zeffie, come to Daddy," he invited in his best coaxing voice.


"She said 'Daddy'!" he said delightedly, looking at Ilestra. "Yes, Zeffie, Daddy!"

"Well, she said 'da', anyway," the childcare provider said.

"She meant 'Daddy'," he insisted. "Come on, Zeffie, you can do it."

"Da!" Zephyr repeated, pointing at him. "Da!" And then she let go of the box and took two steps, wobbling ferociously.

He caught her hands and steadied her for the next two and then she thumped into him, crowing delightedly. He picked her up, feeling like echoing her. He settled for spinning around with her, something she loved, and saying, "That's my girl!"

"Da!" she cried, patting his face. "Gaa mok!"

"Sorry, Zeffie, I don't know what that means," he grinned at her.


He turned to see Apollo and Boxey standing next to Ilestra, all three of them smiling.

"Did she just say 'Dad'?" Apollo sounded delighted.

"In front of witnesses, her first word. That's my smart girl," he added to her.

"That's your baby, Uncle Starbuck? She's cute."

"Yes, she is," Starbuck said. "This is Zeffie. Zeffie," he sat on his heels in front of the boy, "this is your big cousin Boxey."

"Hi, Zeffie," he said. He held out his hand and she caught it, giggling at him. He smiled at her. "Is that all she can say, Uncle Starbuck?"

"Well, she's barely a yahren old, after all. But now she's started, I expect she'll get better."

"Pretty soon you'll wish she hadn't learned how, lieutenant," Ilestra said. "I'm so glad you were here for that first step. See you tomorrow."

"And walking?" Apollo said. He shook his head. "I'm a little jealous, I think. Though it was nice Boxey was out of diapers."

"Dad!" the boy protested. "Did she have a nice birthday party?" he asked a little wistfully as they headed toward Starbuck's quarters.

Starbuck was startled. "A birthday party?" he said. "For a one-yahren-old? We didn't have one... were we supposed to? I doubt she'd have understood the concept."

"Well, it's really not for her," Apollo said. "It's for you. Next year you'll know better."

"Parties for babies," Starbuck shook his head. "Very strange."

"How old were you when you had your first birthday party, Uncle Starbuck?" Boxey asked.

Starbuck looked at Apollo. "Seventeen," he answered.

"Seventeen??" Boxey couldn't believe his ears.

"Yep," Starbuck said, "at the academy. Your dad gave it for me."

"Was it nice?"

"Yes, Boxey. It was a good party," Starbuck looked at Apollo again, and then at Zephyr. Okay, I'd forgotten... birthday parties from now on, Zeff. Since that's what families do for babies.

"Starbuck," Apollo said later, when Boxey was ensconced in front of IFB's 'Children's centare' raptly watching 'Tales from the Word'—though 'Tribal Legends', which followed, was actually his favorite. Zeffie was sleeping and the two men were sitting in the service room, trying not to hear the broadcast.


"I was thinking... when was her birthday, exactly?"

Starbuck recalled the date he'd put down on her papers. "Four days ago," he said.

"Good," said Apollo. "You were on duty. I was thinking, we could have—I mean, you could have a party for her day after tomorrow, when Blue Squadron's off. If you had it late in the afternoon, anybody from Yellow who wanted to come could, and same for Athena. And Father."

"Your father?" Starbuck was startled. "Your father would come to Zeffie's party?"

"He certainly would. I think he'd react like Boxey did, inside, if he thought you'd given a party and not asked him... Starbuck, he's very fond of you. You have to know that."

"Well, I didn't think—"

Apollo interrupted. "He wouldn't have approved of her mother's profession. You're right. Or... but that's in the past. He does approve of your taking care of your daughter. And he'd hate to think you thought he wanted to cut you off. You should know him by now: he likes to be the patriarch, gathering everyone around him. He'd really love the chance to add Zeffie to his extended family."

"Well," Starbuck considered it. Truth be told, it made him feel good to hear that Adama liked him; sometimes he'd felt like he was put up with for Apollo's sake. He'd been pretty sure Adama was severely conflicted over the idea that he and Athena were dating... every now and then he'd caught the old man's eye on him and wondered why he was involved with her in the first place, the glare was so promising. And not promising good things, either... On the other hand, though, "Apollo, I know there's no way to keep Zeffie from knowing about her mother. For that matter, I'm not convinced it would be in her best interests if it could happen—but that's an equinus of a different color. The thing is, I know your father and his views. I don't want Zeffie getting... I mean, if he wants her around, he'll... Okay, what I mean is—"

"What you mean is," Apollo said, "he's the Commander. He's about as important as you can get, plus he'll be an elder-figure for her. And you don't want her hearing bad things about her mother from him. And you're right. She shouldn't. I don't think it'll be hard to convince him not to talk about her to Zeffie. I mean, that's your business, not his."

"True," said Starbuck. "If that's understood—I mean, I don't want to get into it with the commander..."

"Think of him as a nosy uncle."

"That's not as much help as you probably thought it was," Starbuck pointed out.

"Oh. Right. Sorry... Look, I'll talk to him, okay? And I expect Athena will, too." Apollo grinned. "And he'll have a few yahrens to get used to the idea. After all, she won't understand him for a while."

"True," Starbuck said again. He leaned back in his chair, deeply contented, moreso than he could remember being in a long time. Boxey in the next room, Apollo right here, Adama still liking him, Athena close, and Zeffie, sleeping safely in her room, walking and calling him "daddy"... "I think I'm dreaming," he said. "So don't wake me up."

"Okay, I won't," Apollo promised. "Starbuck..."


"You know I'm getting Sealed. With Sheba," he added.

Starbuck snickered at the delivery. "I should hope with Sheba. She'd kill you if you said somebody else."

"Look—I don't want to hurt you—"

Way too late, thought Starbuck, keeping his pyramid face on.

"—so don't hesitate to say 'no' or, well maybe not punch me, Boxey's here, but... I meant what I said before, you know? I really would like it if you'd be my best man."

Starbuck couldn't decide if he felt like laughing or crying. But crying would not only be unproductive, it would upset everybody else, so he smiled and said, "I'd be honored. Really."

"Great." That was heartfelt. Apollo reached out and put his hand on Starbuck's arm, first time he'd touched him in six sectares. That alone made it worth it, Starbuck decided.

"Try to wait for me this time," he said lightly.

"Well, you try not to go jaunting off to a basestar, okay?"

"I'll try to resist any invitations that get thrown my way," he agreed dryly, adding, "although at least Sheba's capable of flying your wing."

"Like she'd give up her squadron for that."

Starbuck just grinned, not saying what he'd give up for it, and asked, "So, do I get to put together a bachelor party this time?"

"I wish you wouldn't."

"Too bad. I'll keep it boring, don't worry."

So it transpired. Apollo, nervous enough to nearly choke himself on the cape of his dress uniform, Sealed with an entirely serene Sheba. Starbuck supported him—nearly literally—and Athena stood with Sheba, while Adama performed the ceremony, with the High Priestess blessing the couple. Everybody who was anybody was there—the son of Adama and the daughter of Cain was the wedding of the millennium and a symbol of the future.

Or possibly the past, Starbuck thought, but he knew why he was moody so he kept his thoughts behind his nice white teeth, as Matron had always advised, and didn't spoil anybody's good mood. He kept one eye on Apollo, one on Boxey, and one more that he didn't know he had kept catching Athena's icy blue gaze from the other side of the aisle. Both of them were wearing happy expressions that were lies. He wasn't sure how many people could see through Athena's, he didn't think he could have if he hadn't known her since she was fifteen. His he had every confidence in; he had lots of experience at it.

After the ceremony, Boomer came up to speak to Starbuck. He was seeing Cassie steadily now and she was still maintaining her distance from Starbuck, talking to him only if he turned up in the Life Center and she couldn't find someone else to deal with him. That bothered him, but there wasn't anything he could do about it and her decision hadn't been a total surprise. Anyway, he wouldn't have done anything differently if someone had offered him a chance (barring only that confession to Apollo), so he didn't spend much time thinking about it. Boomer was in the unenviable position of having a girlfriend who hated one of his closest friends and refusing to give him up. But if anybody could handle that it was Boomer, who simply didn't go where people tried to push him.

"You dress him?" he asked Starbuck, grinning.

"Gods, yes. It took me all morning to get him presentable," Starbuck said.

"I remember back at the academy," Boomer said reminiscently. "I used to win money on Firstdays, getting plebes to pick out which of you two was the colonel's son and which the first-generation inductee. They never did."

Starbuck grinned. He liked the dress uniform, always had, and knew without, he thought, undue vanity that he looked damned good in it. Apollo, on the other hand, thought it was way too fussy, and he was constantly getting the pectoral tangled and tangled up in the cape, the same cape Starbuck wore with flourish. Apollo hated the whole thing.

"I could do it again today. I'm surprised he even wore uniform," Boomer added.

"Sheba wanted uniforms," Starbuck said, shrugging.

"Why?" Boomer was puzzled.

"He looks good in it," Starbuck said. "Once you get him in it. I'm sure she had her reasons, but we don't talk."

Boomer raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"Oh, we talk," Starbuck clarified. "To each other, just not with each other. I think she doesn't like me. I'm not sure, though."

"Well," Boomer said philosophically, "wives are supposed to hate husband's best friends. So far Apollo's on a roll."

"Well, at least they don't tell him they hate me."

Boomer laughed. "True. But they've known how far they could go."

"That's reassuring," Starbuck said, altogether seriously.

"You all right, buddy?" Boomer turned serious as well.

"I'm fine," Starbuck said. "Okay," he conceded to the Leonid's look of disbelief, "maybe 'fine' is a little strong. But it was going to happen. He thinks Boxey needs a mother, and if it wasn't Sheba it would be somebody else."

"Which doesn't answer my question."

"I'm all right."

Boomer gripped his arm. "You need someone to talk to, you know where to find me."

"Thanks, Boomer. I mean it. Athena's coming over tonight... as soon as we can decently escape."

"Good," Boomer said. "I don't think you should be alone tonight, but I'm not sure I'm the right person... But call me if you need to. Any time."

"Thanks," Starbuck said again. "But I'll be all right."

Boomer stayed a couple more centons and then went back to Cassie, not hurrying. Starbuck stayed long enough to dance with Sheba—something else he did better than Apollo, despite dancing lessons or the lack of them—and make the obligatory toasts, and then, pleading the need to collect Zeffie from childcare before she started to think of it as home, he congratulated Apollo and Sheba and left.

He went straight to the childcare center, not changing first. Zeffie spotted him as he came in the door and made for him on still unsteady feet, calling "Da, Da!" and reaching for him. He caught her in his arms and swung her up in the air, losing his melancholy in her gurgling laugh. "Daddy's here, and we're going home now," he said. "What have you been up to, Zeffie?" He tucked her red hair behind her ears, shaking his head. "Am I going to have to cut this to keep you from getting it tangled? Maybe we'll try braiding it, hmm? Would you like that?"

She said something serious and incomprehensible and reached to pull at the semi-precious stones on his pectoral.

"Don't mess with that," he said, "it's very expensive."

She laughed and put one of the strands in her mouth.

He laughed. "You listen as well as I do. Let go of that." He disengaged her from it and raised her to his shoulder. "Now, don't spit up on this," he said, "suede is hell to clean." She tugged on his hair and burbled to him cheefully for the rest of the walk home.

As it turned out, the next Sealing Starbuck went to was Boomer's. Although the Leonid was Reformed Word, and Cassie was only nominally anything, they asked the Commander to marry them and he agreed to perform the ceremony. Boomer had found himself having to choose for his best man between someone whose wife hated his fiancée and someone whom his fiancée hated. Being Boomer, he shrugged, split the difference, and asked them both. Cassie, who was mellowing according to people she actually talked to, accepted that. So two of her life center colleagues stood with her, and Apollo and Starbuck both supported Boomer—not in uniform, to Apollo's relief. Boomer was happy, Cassie was radiant, and they made a spectacular couple when they danced their first dance as a Sealed couple.

Eight sectares after that, Flight Sergeant Barton from Red Squadron sealed to Corporal Rigel from Athena's operations section on First Watch. Athena approached Starbuck on Rigel's behalf to see if he'd allow Zephyr to be in their ceremony, Barton being an Aquarian, whose people often had flower girls. Starbuck didn't mind at all, as long as Rigel and Barton realized that Zeffie was just over three and apt to lose interest half-way through. They didn't mind, so Starbuck found himself at the first of what proved to be several Sealings where Zephyr, in a lacy concoction utterly unlike anything she normally allowed herself to be put into, with her mane of red hair laced through with ribbons, solemnly carried artificial flowers in front of the bride.

"I can't believe she's so good about it," Starbuck confessed to Athena after Rigel and Barton's ceremony was over and Zeffie was perched on a chair carefully eating some SealCake and watching the dancing.

"Women love weddings," she said, her blue eyes sparkling.

"Maybe so, but she's only three," he protested.

"Well, maybe she just loves being the center of attention. Sort of like her father," Athena teased him.

"Maybe," he agreed. "She was cute, wasn't she?"

"She was," Athena agreed instantly.

Apollo, there in his capacity as Strike Captain and Barton's commander, and Sheba paused by them on their way out the door. "She was amazingly well-behaved," Sheba said.

Starbuck fought the urge to treat that as an insult and said only, "Thank you."

"And when can we expect to come to your Sealing, Athena?" Sheba turned to her.

"When I send invitations," Athena said. "But don't hold your breath."

"Don't be too picky," Sheba advised.

Apollo said, "We'd better be getting on. We need to pick up Boxey. Zeffie really was cute, Starbuck."

"I could kill her," Athena muttered.

"Murder in front of a bride is bad luck, isn't it?" Starbuck said. "Please tell me I didn't pass up a perfectly good opportunity."

She laughed despite her efforts to stay annoyed. "Dance with me," she said, "and then you'd better take Zeffie home before she eats too much or finally reverts to her usual self and ruins that dress."

"Sure," he said. He enjoyed dancing with Athena, who was much better at it than her brother—though he sometimes wondered if Apollo would follow better than he led. He shook that unprofitable thought away as soon as he was aware it had come back and concentrated on his actual partner. When the dance ended they made their way around the periphery of the floor and found Zeffie, curled neatly up on two chairs, sound asleep.

"I think I stayed too long," he said ruefully.

"Oh, I don't know," Athena said. "I mean, she's not causing any trouble. And she's getting her sleep."

He picked Zeffie up carefully; she didn't wake, just snuggled herself into his arms and sighed. Athena looked at him and sighed herself. "You two certainly look... complete," she said. "She's a lucky little girl."

"Not as lucky as me," he said softly, looking at the sleeping child. "It's really amazing, 'Theni, how much I love her."

"I can tell," she said. "It's all over you. All over both of you. Come on, I'll walk you home."

At his quarters he invited her in for a cup of kava. She accepted, teasing him when she realized she'd have to make it while he put Zeffie to bed. He offered to let her braid Zeffie's hair (or come by in the morning to comb out the tangles if it wasn't) but she retreated precipitately to the service room and the kava brewer, informing him when he joined her that she'd had enough experience with that on the child's end not to want to be anywhere near it.

"No kidding," he said. "At least twice a secton I have a nearly overwhelming urge to just cut it off."

"Starbuck, you wouldn't dare!"

"I might. I'd regret it, I know..." He shook his head. "But she can be an absolute handful when her hair's in a million knots."

"But it's so lovely... was her mother's hair like that?"

"Don't hit me," he said, "but I don't really remember. It wasn't red," he added, knowing that Sheba had seen her.

"Well, red can come from nowhere," she said. "And anyway, sometimes your hair looks a little red."

Starbuck blinked, catching himself thinking that made sense. Damn, but sometimes if he didn't forget Zeffie wasn't his. In fact, earlier today he'd been brushing her hair before taking her to the Hall, and caught himself wondering if maybe his mother had had red hair. After talking to Chameleon he'd about convinced himself his mother was a blonde, like Cassie; when that had fallen through, he'd still decided it made sense if his attraction to Cassie was partly based on a fuzzed-out half-memory of his mother... but whether that was true or not, his mother wasn't going to look like Zeff. He decided to change the subject.

"Was Sheba just needling you, or is there someone you've got your eye on?"

"Oh, damn her," Athena said. "She should be examined for witchcraft, I sometimes think."

"Sorry," he said quickly. "Forget I asked."

"No, it's all right," she said. "I'd like to tell someone... someone who won't tell me to forget it."

"Well, I can promise not to say that," he said. "There is someone?"

"Yes." She sighed. "Someone who... well, I can't say he doesn't know I'm alive because he talks to me every single day. But certainly someone who doesn't seem to have noticed that I'm, well, the opposite gender."

"You're sure he's interested in the opposite gender?" Starbuck asked carefully. He'd certainly never had any doubts about Adama's opinion on this topic, and Apollo had pretty much run and hid for six sectares at the very notion...

Athena just shrugged, however. "Lords, Starbuck, if that was it, well, it would be different. But he's not interested in anybody as far as I can tell. I know he was married before the Destruction... I guess he just can't get over her."

"Some people can't 'just move on'," Starbuck agreed, thinking about himself. Lord knows he'd tried often enough. He might have been happier just being celibate... well, okay, no. But he'd never really been near to replacing Apollo in his heart. He probably never would.

"No," she said. "We can't." She sighed. "I suppose I should look around and find someone else, but, it just seems so empty."

"You're all right," he said.

She smiled at him. "Thanks... I mean it. And I'd better get home before Sheba starts spreading rumors about us." She stood up, and then said, "You do know I'm joking? I don't care if she spreads rumors or not."

"You ought to," he said. "If you're talking about who I think you are, he won't ever make a move on you if your name is coupled with someone else's. He's too patrician... and I mean that in a good way."

"I don't know if living my life in the hopes that he'll notice me is such a good plan," she said. "But I'd better get home anyway. We're on early shift tomorrow."

"Well, being late to work won't impress him, that's for sure." He rose and kissed her cheek. "Sweet dreams, 'Theni."

"Thanks, Starbuck."

"Hey, Boomer—come in here a minute, would you?"

"Sure." Boomer walked into Apollo's office. "What's up?"

Apollo had a pleased look on his face. "Well, I finally got Tigh and Father to sign off on the promotions list. You know we need three more squadron leaders after Hobbie quit and Marron got pregnant and Felix got careless..."

"Yeah, it was a bad secton," Boomer nodded. "You mean you convinced them to give Starbuck a squadron?"

"Finally. I'm going to miss having him on my wing, but the last four yahrens he's really been steady. The only person who deserves a squadron more than him is you, and you knew you were getting one... everybody knew it."

"I know. Starbuck doesn't even have a book on it," Boomer grinned. "Long time coming... but I know why."

"Yes," Apollo said. They both knew. The next step for Apollo was colonel, but there was no place for him to go, and thus he couldn't vacate the strike captain slot for Boomer, who would probably have been on a battlestar yahrens ago. If there'd been a battlestar for him to go to. "So, I thought I'd give Starbuck Purple, since he's always saying that's a good color for him."

Boomer laughed. "Sounds like an excellent reason to me."

"So, do you have a preference? Red or Yellow?"

Boomer didn't hesitate. "Yellow."

"Thought so," Apollo nodded. Yellow deployed with Purple when squadrons went out in twos.

"The only person I know better than Starbuck is you," Boomer said, "and nobody else even has a clue what he's going to do next, steadied up or not."

"True, as he himself would say. I was hoping you'd say that. Bojay can have Red; it's nominally second to Blue and it should keep him happy for a while."

"Nothing will keep that man happy," Boomer said.

"I know. But getting a squadron should help." They both knew it wouldn't, really. But Bojay's promotion to acting captain a few sectares before they'd met the other battlestar hadn't lasted (there could only be one captain), and he wasn't the senior lieutenant on the Galactica. It was rough on him, but his attitude didn't make anybody want to make it up to him. Apollo continued, "And I didn't want to put him in Yellow, even though you deserve Red."

"Bojay and Starbuck working together? When daggets fly."

"Glad you agree... You're still senior to Bojay, Red and Yellow notwithstanding."

"Well, as long as you keep your butt in one piece, sir, that won't matter, will it?" Boomer said pointedly. "Make sure you get a good wingman."

"I was thinking about taking Barton out of Red. He used to fly with Ortega, and he's good."

"Besides, Bojay has a thing about Aquarians..."

"Besides, as you say..."

Boomer laughed, but there wasn't much humor in it.

"Well, I guess I take the three of you for drinks tonight."

"Oh, well, that should be fun. I wish I had a kid of my own, so I could leave early."

Apollo laughed. "We'll survive."

When Starbuck went to pick up Zephyr, he found Boxey there, 'helping'. Ilestra took him aside and said, "Lieutenant, the Captain's son showed up here a couple of centares ago. The Captain and Lieutenant Sheba are both on patrol, and while I could have called Lieutenant Athena, the boy wanted to talk to you... I checked with the middle school data base, and you're down as a contact, so I decided to wait for you. Do you want to take him, or should I call his aunt?"

"No, I'll take him home," said Starbuck. "I'm guessing he's not supposed to be out of school?"

"Well," she said, "they're still in session... but he's been fighting, I think."

Boxey fighting? That wasn't like him. Starbuck thanked Ilestra and walked over to the boy. "Hey, Boxey," he said.

Boxey looked sideways up at him. "Hi, Uncle Starbuck. Can I go home with you and Zeffie?"

"Sure, Boxey."

The boy stood up quickly. Without looking at Starbuck he said, "I'll get Zeffie."

Starbuck stood where he was and waited till Boxey brought her out of the play area. She was telling him about the baby tooth she'd lost—it had been loose that morning when Starbuck had dropped her off at the center. Boxey asked her if she'd saved it for the tooth hob.

"Of course," she said, and pulled it out of her pocket to show him.

Tooth hob? What the frack is a tooth hob? thought Starbuck. He didn't want to ask Boxey, because if it was something everyone was supposed to know it would upset the boy to find out Starbuck didn't. Boxey had gotten more sensitive in the last yahren or so, it was easy to upset him... He'd have to ask Apollo when he took Boxey home.

"Come on, kids," he said. "Let's go."

"Daddy! See, my tooth came out! I'm not a baby any more!"

He smiled at her. "I see."

"Boxey's got an owie," she informed him.

"Yeah? Let me see."

Boxey pulled away.

"C'mon, kid," Starbuck said. "I know you were in a fight, and you can't keep hiding half your face forever. Let me see."

Boxey reluctantly faced him.

"Frack, Boxey, how the hell did you do that?" Starbuck reconsidered his words just too late, and then decided this was the kind of situation where they were justified. And if Boxey repeated them to his parents, well, that would be his defense. "Are you sure you don't have a broken cheekbone?" The bruise was going to be spectacular.

"I'm okay, Uncle Starbuck," the pre-teen was getting sulky down just fine, Starbuck noted. He hoped Zeffie skipped that but had little reason for confidence. "Nothing's broke."

"Well, does the other guy at least look worse?"

That startled Boxey, who'd obviously been expecting to be chewed out. "Well... no. But I did get him good at least once."

"You need to do better than that," Starbuck said. "Skinny kid like you, you should have speed on them... what were you fighting about?"

Boxey looked at the corridor floor and shook his head. "Nothing."

Yeah, right. Starbuck let it ride till they got to his quarters. "Zeffie, go on to your room for a while, okay? I need to talk to Boxey."

"Okay, Daddy. I'm going to put my tooth up for the tooth hob and then I'm going to read in my book so I can read to you tonight."

"Okay, sweetheart." Tooth hob... later. He looked at Boxey, who was standing there with what Starbuck immediately recognized as fear mixed with anger. Not a good combination in the best of times, and not something Apollo's son should be showing... "Okay, Boxey, let me see your face."

"I'm okay."

"Yeah, you probably are, but your father will kill me if you should drop dead in my front room because you have a brain hemorrhage and I didn't check you out. Let me see."

Boxey submitted to a quick check. To Starbuck's experienced eye and hands he was, actually, okay. "Bruised but not broken," he said. "So, what was the fight about?"


"Nobody collects a mark like that over 'nothing', Boxey—"

"I'm not a baby! Don't call me that!"

Starbuck blinked. "Don't call you what?"

"Boxey is a stupid name," he said bitterly. "A stupid baby name. I hate it."

Starbuck sympathized. "What do you want to be called?"

"Well," he said, "my real name is Bokildjan... I know. It's awful. My father was a Libran. And my mother was an—"

"Extremely nice woman. Who probably loved her husband."

"I hate 'Boxey'. It's dumb."

"I'm sure your mother would have stopped calling you 'Boxey' by now. So why don't we come up with something else?"

"I hate my name."

He didn't really blame him. What some people did to their kids... He didn't suppose Boxey was in the mood to contemplate being called 'Greenbean', though. "Well, maybe you could shorten it some way besides Boxey?"

"To what? Killer?" he asked, with a sideways glance.

"I don't think so," he said. Apollo would hate that, and Boxey would too in another ten yahrens.

"Well, just plain 'Bok' is as bad as Boxey, almost."

"It is kind of flat. Let me think... How about Djan?" he suggested.

"Djan... hey, that's kind of cool," he approved. "Djan."

"Yep," he nodded. "Sounds like a grown-up name."

"Cool, Uncle Starbuck. Will you help me make Dad use it?"

"I'll do my best." He regarded Box—Djan for a minute. "So, is that what the fight was about?"


"Punching somebody over your name's kind of overkill, Djan," he said. "I've got a feeling something else is behind this. You want to tell me, or save it for your dad?"

Djan turned away, muttering something.

"Didn't quite catch that."

"I should go home."

"Well, your parents aren't home, so you're going to your aunt's, your granddad's, or back to the care center." Djan's thin shoulders stiffened, and Starbuck felt compelled to add, "If you go anywhere. You can stay here."

Djan was finding one of Starbuck's photos intensely interesting. The picture—of him and Apollo and Boomer when they were seniors at the academy, in dress grays with the black capes and silver braid, Apollo, despite his cadet-colonel's insignia, still looking like he was about to strangle himself while Boomer looked competent and Starbuck, if he said so himself, dashing—was a good likeness of them, but hardly fascinating even if Apollo hadn't had a copy of it where Boxey—Djan—had been able to see every day for the past five yahrens. Starbuck sat on the couch and wondered exactly what was going on and what, if anything, he should say.

His silence seemed to be the right course of action, however. Djan said, suddenly, "Did Dad ever get into fights when he was a boy?"

"I didn't know him when he was a boy," Starbuck said carefully, "but according to your aunt, and your Uncle Zac who you never met, yes. He did, now and again. He got into a couple at the academy, but he wasn't a boy then."

"He did?" That sounded a bit hopeful. "He was bad sometimes?"

And disturbingly familiar. It shouldn't have... Djan shouldn't have that concern. But nonetheless, Starbuck could hear Director lecturing boys: and if you're bad, if you fight or disobey or are insolent, you'll be sent back here. And we have too many boys who want homes to waste second chances on bad boys... Starbuck shook off that memory, which surely didn't have anything to do with this, and said, "Yep. He was bad sometimes. Not really bad, I expect; I doubt he ever tortured felixes or set fire to buildings. But your aunt's told me a few things about him. He grew up into a paragon, but he wasn't always like that."

"So he won't send me away if I'm bad?"

"Send you away? Where would he send you?"

"To the Orphan Ship. He's not really my dad—"

Starbuck reached out and spun the boy around, staring into his dark eyes. "Djan, listen to me. He is your dad. Absolutely, positively, and with no room for argument. He's raised you for the last five yahrens. He loves you. And even if that wasn't true—which it is—you're not an orphan."

"My real parents are dead."

"Your mom is dead." Starbuck wasn't going to try and convince Djan that Sheba was his mom; the boy was too sensitive to nuance to believe that. "Your biological father is dead. Apollo is your parent, though. Your real parent. When he married your mother he became your father."

"There's papers and stuff. He never signed them."

"Yes, he did." Starbuck was sure that if Apollo hadn't it was because nobody had bothered to tell him he had to. And that he'd sign them in a heartbeat once he knew he had to... so this wasn't a lie. It was a higher truth. "He'd never take a chance on losing you. Did you ask him?"

"No... she didn't sign anything."

Starbuck bit back saying Djan was better off without that. "If it comes to it, which it won't if we have anything to say about it, you've got an aunt and a grandfather. And even me, I'm in there. But your dad couldn't send you away if he wanted to, which he never will. Especially not for getting in a fight. You got that, kiddo?"

Djan sighed and hugged Starbuck. "Got it."

"Good. Now, I'd offer you a mushie if I thought you weren't too old—"

"Lots of really old people like mushies, Uncle Starbuck!"

"Mushie!" Zeffie came barrelling out of her room.

The three of them were playing triktrak when Apollo came looking for his son. Zeffie had to count out her moves before she made them, but she was sharp on strategy. She was a better player than Djan already, and Starbuck feared she'd be beating him before too many more yahrens.

"Starbuck—" Apollo's voice was aggrieved.

"It's just triktrak. We're not even playing for chips," he protested.

"I lost my tooth, Uncle Apollo," Zeffie informed him. "I'm not a baby any more."

"I see that," Apollo said. "Did you save it?"

"I already put it under my pillow."


Which reminded Starbuck he needed to ask about that. "Apollo, come into the service room for a minute, I need to ask you something."

"Sure. What is it?"

"What the frack is a tooth hob?"

Apollo stared at him for a minute and then laughed. "Oh, man. It's a good thing you asked."

"I guessed that. What is it?"

"It's a hob, like a fairy or sprite or something. A homely spirit. It collects children's teeth and leaves a cubit."

Starbuck looked at him. "You mean, I leave a cubit."

Apollo grinned at him. "Yes. Cheer up, she's only got twenty-eight baby teeth."

"There's a lot of deception involved in giving kids a really good home life, isn't there?"

"I never thought of it like that—"

"What else is there? I mean, I know about Grandfather Frost at Midwinter...not that Midwinter is going to mean anything to Zeffie, or any of the little kids. But what else is there?"

Apollo shook his head. "Stop by my office tomorrow—no, I forgot. Meetings all day... Next secton sometime. We'll go over it."

"You're on." Starbuck decided to wait till Djan wasn't around to bring up his suspicions. But—"By the way, your son has decided that he hates being called Boxey. It's a stupid baby name."

"Oh. Well, it is sort of... Did he say what he does want? I don't know if I can call him Bokildjan."

"You're in luck; he hates that too. He settled on Djan."

"Djan. Well, I can live with that. Thanks for the heads up."

"No problem. A whole cubit?"

Apollo laughed. "Yes. A whole cubit."

The doorsignal rang twice, short and sharp rings. "I'll get it, Daddy!" Zephyr called. He heard her running into the front room and cocked an ear to make sure it was somebody he wanted her talking to. "Aunt 'Theni! Daddy, it's Aunt 'Theni!"

"Well, tell her to come in, Zeffie."

"Come in, Aunt 'Theni. Are you staying for dinner?"

"I don't know," she said, "you'll have to ask your dad."

"Daddy?" She ran into the service room. Athena followed her, her pale blue eyes alight. "Can Aunt 'Theni stay for dinner?"

"There's plenty," he said.

"I will, then, thanks... Zeffie, I need to talk to your dad. Run off and do whatever you were doing when I came, can you? We'll read something after dinner, okay, sweetie?"

"Okay," she said, and then, "Daddy's not in trouble, is he?"

"Not a bit of it," Athena said, laughing. "I want his advice, as a matter of fact."

"Good." Zephyr smiled, her huge brown eyes lighting up. "Daddy always knows what to do. He'll help you."

"I've got at least one person snowed, anyway," Starbuck said, leaning back against the counter. "What's up, 'Theni? You look... I don't know."

"Like I just got hit—hard—up the side of the head?" she asked. "'Cause that's how I feel."

"Ummm... you look like it was a good thing, though."

"Oh, gods, yes."

"Okay, I'll ask. What hit you?"

"The most incredible pair of dark eyes," she said, smiling.

"Oh?" This sounded good.

"Have you ever looked at somebody looking at you when they didn't know you could see them?"

"No," he said after a moment's thought. "I'm not sure how you could."

"In a reflective surface," she said. "Not a mirror, they'd know it even if they weren't thinking about it. But a nice shiny unexpected piece of tallium steel... and he was looking at me."

"It's his job, isn't it?" Starbuck grinned.

"Not like that, it isn't," she said. "Or you'd have gone into ops."

"So the whole ops staff knows?"

"You would think that was funny," she said, "but, no. We weren't on the bridge. We were in the ready room. After a briefing. Just us..."

"Ah. Promising situation. What did you do?"

"Do? Nothing... Starbuck, we were on duty."

"You could have done something even so." He cocked his head and looked at her. "You would have five yahrens ago."

"I wouldn't have had to with you, if that's what you mean," she riposted. "You're not the type to stand around staring your heart out at somebody and never say anything."

"Actually, I have done that."

"Really? At who? Or at least why?"

"After we get you sorted we can talk about me. Maybe over some ambrosa," he added thoughtfully, "and you can tuck me in when I get sappy and pass out."

"That'll be new," she said. "But don't think I won't remember."

"I'll hold you to it..." And he meant it. Boomer was supportive enough, but he really identified more with Apollo in the matter, and couldn't comprehend the length of time involved. Athena would be on his side, and she'd been carrying her own torch for what, six yahrens now? Longer... But getting back to her situation, he said, "You do it when you think saying something will ruin your working relationship. Your friendship. End with your getting bounced off the nearest wall and never spoken to again."

"I don't bounce people off walls," she protested.


"He can't think I would. Can he? I don't want to bounce him off a wall... though I wouldn't mind getting him up against one," she added reflectively.

Starbuck grinned at her. "Maybe you should."

"Starbuck! That would probably scare him to death!"

"Well-brought-up boy, was he? Too bad. You sure he's not too quiet for you?"

"He's not quiet, he's steady."

He winced theatrically. "Well, that explains why we didn't work out."

"No kidding. But seriously, Tigh depends on him. He couldn't run the ship without him."

"Job security. A good thing."


"Seriously, 'Theni, you know I want you to be happy. And gods know you've been waiting long enough. Want me to find out where he goes off duty and drop some hints?"


"What? Not what a brother would do?"

"Not exactly. Do you want to hear what my brother said, yahrens ago now?"

"Do I?"

"Probably not."

"Not helpful? Surprise me... I am trying to be, you know. Helpful."

"I know. And you're right, too. I should do something."

"Take him to dinner."

She looked puzzledly at him.

"Over on the Star. Get a private room. Tell him you've invited three or four others from the shift if you need to. Get him alone. Tell him. What have you got to lose? Tell him you've been trying not to mess up your working relationship but you can't ignore your feelings any longer."

"I could do that."

"Sure. Then jump him—just kidding. Though if it seems right—"

"Sound-proofed," she smiled. "I remember."

He grinned at her. She hugged him and said, "I can do that. Like you said, what have I got to lose?"

Over dinner, while Zeffie pushed her primaries around on the plate hoping they'd disappear, Athena and Starbuck discussed restaurants on the Rising Star, cheerfully ignoring how long it had been since either of them had been there.

"Aunt 'Theni," Zeffie said suddenly, "why don't you and Daddy get married?"

Athena stared at him; he stared back. "She asked you," he said, and then turned to Zephyr. "Zeffie, you don't ask questions like that. It's not polite."

"Sorry," she said. "But why not?"


"I already asked!"

"Your dad and I used to date," Athena said.

"'Theni, she'll never learn if you answer her."

"I don't mind," she said, having regained her composure. "It was just a bit unexpected. Because I don't think of your dad like that anymore, Zeffie. We tried it and it didn't work. We're friends."

"Right," he said. "Besides, your Aunt 'Theni's about to get a boyfriend."


"Really?" Zeffie said eagerly. "What's he like?"

Starbuck answered before Athena could. "He's very smart. Very tall. Very handsome."

"What does he look like?"

"Well, he has dark brown hair and dark eyes your aunt thinks are incredible."

Athena was blushing; he hadn't thought she could.

"What does incredible," she pronounced it carefully, "mean, Daddy?"

"Unbelievable. Wonderful, your aunt means."

"Aunt 'Theni, is he as good-looking as Daddy?"

"Well," Athena looked at him. "At the risk of making him more stuck-up than he already is—probably not quite."

"But he is very attractive," Starbuck said seriously. "And he and your aunt will be good together. We weren't. It doesn't work for everybody."

"Like you and Mom?"

"Yes. Like that. Your Aunt 'Theni and I, we were meant to be good friends."

"Will you still visit when you get Sealed, Aunt 'Theni?"

"You're moving much too fast, Zeffie," she said. "We're not even dating yet."

"But Daddy said—"

"Yes, well, he's moving too fast, too."

"Come on, 'Theni, you'll get him."

"Argh! Two of you is too many! But, yes, sweetheart, I'll always visit. I wouldn't stop seeing you for anything."

part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4
part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8


Original Fantasy:
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