Three days later, Zephyr a centare in bed and him starting to think about turning in early himself given that he was off the next day and Zeffie not in school and he could anticipate an earlya very earlywaking up, Starbuck opened his door to find Athena standing there with a bottle of nectar. "Ah," he said. "Come in. Was I expecting you?"
"You should have been," she said. "You said you wanted to talk. You said over ambrosa, but I don't have any so I brought this." She held up the bottle. "It's some of Father's good stuff. He gave it to me for my thirtieth birthday... I think he's given up on a Sealing."
Starbuck remembered. "And should he have?"
She smiled at him, all sparkling, but said, "We're supposed to be talking about you tonight."
"I said after we got you sorted out. Are you?"
She smiled again. "Oh, I think so. I think so... mind, he's not as precipitate as you. But nevertheless, I think so. If I have anything to say about it."
Starbuck laughed. "He's done for... you don't want to save that?"
"I've got ale," he said. "And it's certainly not worth irreplaceable Aquarian nectar that's older than me... Save that for your Sealing night."
"Okay," she capitulated. "If you're sure..."
"Ale is fine." He went into the service room to get it.
Once they were settled on the couch, she turned to him. "Okay, tell me. Who did you carry a torch for? Mind you, I'm trusting that it isn't somebody that will make me want to puke. Like my sister-in-law, for instance."
"Oh, gods," he said. "Credit me with some taste." But he was finding himself shy of telling her, suddenly.
She leaned into him, companionably. "Tell me if you want," she said. "Don't if you don't. You know I'll keep it a secret. But I found it helps to talk to someone, preferably someone who'll be on your side. I will. Like you were for me all these years. And I've already figured out it's got to be someone at least a little unsuitable, or you'd have told my brother."
He laughed; he couldn't help it. "It is. But I did. 'Cause it's him."
She looked at him for a long moment as if she were trying to gauge his sincerity. Her eyes were unreadable at first, and then melted into compassion. "Oh, Starbuck," she said, and put her arms around him. "Oh, you poor thing..."
He hugged her back, relieved to have been right and a little surprised at how right.
"Oh, gods. I can't imagine it... well, maybe I can, a little. And you told him?"
He nodded. "Back right after I got Zeffie. He told me... well, he said he didn't reciprocate the feeling. Plus get lost... though he changed his mind about that, thank the Lords of Kobol."
"So that's what was wrong with him!" Athena said with the satisfaction of having an ancient mystery cleared up.
"What do you mean?" Starbuck said.
"He acted like a lunatic for a good half-yahren after you got Zeffie. I never could figure out why she, you, whatever, was affecting him so much. He even let Sheba get him to say something she could take as a proposal. I mean, they get along all right, I'm not saying they don't. He's happy enough, but he's not in love with her, not really. It was you. I should have known it," she concluded. "It's always you when he gets really crazed."
"'Theni" he started to remonstrate.
"Sorry, Starbuck, but it is. He only loses his head over you and Boxey. Djan, I mean. I'm sure you don't want to be in the same category as Djan, but it's true, I'm afraid... Everybody else he loves he manages to keep cool over." She shrugged. "Like Zac. It was a good thing, really, it wasn't you out there. If he'd lost you"
"If it had been me out there we'd have both got back," Starbuck said.
She nodded. "You're probably right. Not that that makes it your fault. Apollo let him go. If the Cylons had been honest" she broke off.
"Yeah," he said. "Figure the odds on that. I never have been able to understand how we got suckered into believing that story."
"Well, that's water under the bridge now," she said. "Anyway, I'm so sorry for you, Starbuck. I can only imagine what it must be like, having him say he didn't love you. But I can imagine... no wonder we're all such cowards most of the time."
"I guess he makes me crazed, too," said Starbuck.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, he got me annoyed and I told him. Something I had intended never to do."
"That's not 'cause you were annoyed," she said with calm certainty. "It's because you needed to be done with it."
"You had something you had to give all your time and energy to," she said. "You had Zeffie. You couldn't afford to be spending time wondering what did that look or that phrase really mean. It had to be out in the open, even if it was not what you wanted to hear."
Starbuck thought about that for a few centons, sipping his grog reflectively. "You're right," he said finally, a little surprised. "How did you know that?"
She shrugged. "Try being Adama's daughter," she suggested. "You don't have anything to do but watch all the important people and figure out their motives, because you're just decorative."
"Your father struck me as smarter than that."
"Sometimes he remembered I have a brain," she admitted. "In fact, sometimes I think he was using little me as his secret agent... but sometimes he wasn't. Apollo got asked for his opinions. I got asked to dance."
"Well," he couldn't resist saying, "it would have done him good to be asked to dance a few more times."
She giggled. "Isn't it the truth? For someone who sings as well as he does, he has two left feet."
"Right feet," Starbuck corrected.
"You know, you're right."
Starbuck was waiting in the Life Center while Zephyr got her checkup. "I'm a big girl now," she'd said with all the authority of eight yahrens. "I don't need my daddy to see a doctor. Not just for shots and stuff." So he was in the waiting room, hoping she wasn't regretting her decision, when Cassie came on duty.
They looked at each other for a couple of centons and then she said, "Frack this, Starbuck. I've missed talking to you. Can you forgive me for being such an idiot?"
Her directness took him off guard. She hadn't used to be so bluntunless she was truly angrybut he supposed five yahrens' living with Boomer had had its effect. From what he'd seen, she didn't seem to feel the need to be constantly, well, acting like someone. She was just being herself. Hard to be anything else around Boom-Boom, he reflected. And it would make things a lot easier all the way around if he and she could be invited to the same parties again. "Sure," he said easily. "You weren't the only one caught unprepared."
"I was the one who spoke way out of turn, though."
"True," he acknowledged. "But it's been more than seven yahrens, now. I'll forget it if you will."
"It's a deal," she said, and hugged him briefly.
"You look good," he said. "I mean it. Married life seems to suit you."
"It does," she nodded. "How are you doing? I suppose your social life has slowed down," she added, with that little half-smile he'd always liked.
"Oh, I don't know," he smiled back. "You'd be surprised how many women find a man with a little daughter irresistible."
She shook her head at him, her earrings catching light. "Only you would think of your daughter as an accessory."
He looked carefully at her, but she wasn't serious. He was relieved. Maybe he hadn't ever loved Cassie, but he'd missed her. "Nah, you've got it backwards. Women are a fringe benefit to having a daughter. I'd give them up in a micron for Zeff."
"You mean that, don't you?"
"Yes. Nothing in the universe is as important as she is. Nothing. No one."
"You know," she said, "it's very odd, but you are actually more attractive now than you were seven yahrens ago... gods. It's spooky. Where's my own husband?"
He grinned. "Hundreds of metrics from here."
"I don't know," he said, looking across at the exam room. "I feel pretty damned corriged sitting in those parent-teacher conferences. Especially when they tell me Zeffie's sabotaged the math tutorial. Again."
"A chip off the old block," Cassie smiled.
"Well, at least I understand her motivations."
She laughed. The door opened and Zeffie came out, carrying a mushie.
"She's certainly growing up into a beautiful little girl," Cassie said.
"Yes," he said with pride.
"Daddy," she said, "Dr. Salik gave me this mushie for being so good. I told him you should get one and he said I should split it with you."
"Your boss is cheap," he said to Cassie. "Zeffie," he added while Cassie laughed, "this is Cassiopeia. She's studying with Dr. Salik."
"Hello," Zeffie said. "You're going to be a doctor?"
"Are you Squadron Leader Boomer's wife?"
"Yes. Your father and I have known each other for a long time."
Zeffie didn't ask where Cassie had been; she was, Starbuck reflected, fairly well used to friends of his popping up. Instead she just said, "It was very nice to meet you. Can we go now, Daddy? I don't want to miss 'Tribal Legends' today."
"Sure, sweetheart," he said. "It was really nice to run into you, Cassie. Don't be such a stranger."
Zephyr pushed for the turbolift and waited, whistling an old tune softly and holding her books to her chest. She'd been to the library by herself and needed to get home before her father did. She wasn't supposed to go places alone, everybody said so. Daddy. Uncle Apollo. Aunt 'Theni. Boomer and Jolly and all the other pilots. Djan, with all the superiority of his fourteen yahrens. Even his step-mother. Elder Adama didn't but that's because the subject hadn't come up. All the other things he thought little girls shouldn't do, he was bound to think going to the library by themselves was one of them. But she was nearly nine and not a baby anymore, no matter what anybody said. And it was just to the library, after all...
A tall brown-haired Colonial Warrior in pilot's uniform pushed to go up and looked down at her. She made herself hold her ground and not step away.
"You're Starslut's daughter, aren't you," he said after a moment's staring, his voice very unpleasant.
"Squadron Leader Boray, isn't it?" she responded.
"You've got a mouth on you," he said, his color rising. "Just like your old man."
"Thank you, sir," she said earnestly.
"I ought to slap some manners into you."
"If you think it would be worth it," she said. She sounded just like her father at his most insolent, though she didn't know it.
They stared at each other, knowing themselves enemies. The lift signal rang and the door opened. "It's up, sir," she said.
He glanced around and saw two more warriors in the lift. With a look that promised it wasn't over, he got in.
Zephyr wondered if she should tell her father, but it was hardly the first time someone had insulted her, and she could handle it without bothering him. Especially since Captain Apollo would get mad at him if he got in a fight with Bojay. And he would get in a fight over it; he always got mad, unless the insults were only about him. Besides, the only person she'd ever heard say anything good about Bojayexcepting his skills as a pilotwas Djan's stepmother, and that said it all right there. The man wasn't worth worrying over.
Her own turbolift came and she got in, anticipating the new stories and forgetting all about the encounter.
"Daddy! Daddy, look!"
Starbuck turned and looked. "Nice, Zeff!" He called. "Good position. Cross-check!"
Five little girls smashed into each other, sticks swinging. Athena winced. "I don't remember playing that hard," she murmured.
"I'll bet you did, though," Omega said, sliding his hand up her back to rest on her shoulder.
"Probably," she nodded. "Just another one of those childhood memories we block."
Starbuck wasn't noticing. "Zeffie! Cross-check her! Cross-check! That's my girl!"
The whistle blew for the half. Starbuck turned to them and said, "Be right back." Then he put his hand on the railing and vaulted over, like a man half his age, landing lightly four metrons below and trotting over to where the girls were standing. When the redhead saw him coming, she ran to meet him. Athena leaned against Omega and watched. Starbuck leaned over, talking to her; she watched him earnestly. He took her stick away and showed her how to hold it and mimed what looked like a vicious check.
"Ouch," Athena said. Omega laughed.
Zephyr took the stick back and executed the move. Starbuck grinnedAthena could see it from where they satand pushed her hair off her forehead. She put up with it, listening to what he was saying. The coach called her back and she ran off, and Starbuck came back to his seat. Athena was glad to see that he didn't try to jump up twice his height and pull himself back up but instead climbed the stairs.
"That looked illegal, Starbuck," she said as he settled back in his seat.
"Cross-checking?" He gave her one of his better innocently amazed looks. "'Theni, I'm surprised at you. Cross-checking's not illegal. If you do it right it's not even a hard foul."
"Fouls aren't illegal?" she raised an eyebrow.
"Fouls are a strategic part of the game," he protested.
"True," Omega agreed. "A well-timed foul takes the ball out of their hands and, hopefully without their managing to score, gets it to your team. If it were illegal, you'd get kicked out of the game."
"Men," she said. "You just like seeing girls hit each other with sticks."
"That might explain why I went to your games when you played for the Academy," Starbuck agreed, "but it doesn't explain why you were out there hitting..."
"Getting hit," added Omega.
Starbuck is a bad influence on him, she thought. I'll have to get them together more often. Out loud she said, "That's just so you men will come and watch. Sort of like Triad uniforms..."
"Ow," said Starbuck. "Touché." The whistle blew for the second half, and Starbuck turned his attention back to the field. "All right, Zeffie," he yelled. "Get 'em!"
Athena leaned against Omega and smiled.
"About time you got here," Boomer said. "Starbuck and I were about to leave a message with the bartender and go home to our womenfolk."
"Sorry," Apollo apologized. "Couldn't get away any sooner. How's Cassie?"
"Big as a shuttle but happy," he said, beaming himself. "Her ankles are swelling, but otherwise she's fine... How'd the meeting go?"
Apollo took a long drink before answering. "Good, in fact. We finally hammered out the whole thing and got Council approval. It's done, thank the Lords of Kobol."
"I don't see why we need it," Starbuck said, playing his role. "I mean 'Squadron Leader' is enough for me. We all know the score."
"We know it," Apollo agreed, "but that doesn't make it palatable. What are we going to do, go for another ten or twenty yahrens, ensigns never making flight officer, flight officers never making lieutenant, lieutenants never making captain"
"And captains never making colonel, we get it," Starbuck said. "What else is there to do? Start assassinating our superiors so we can make rank? We're sort of stuck. Aren't we?"
"Well, you might not want to make captain, but others do. It's recognition if nothing else," Boomer said.
"I didn't say I didn't want to make it," Starbuck shook his head. "It's extra pay if nothing else, and Zeff's about to get expensive if everyone's right about teenagers."
Boomer snorted. "That's true enough, o mercenary one. You are in for a hard time." He turned to Apollo. "What did you decide? You making colonel?"
"No. That would be a bit confusing," Apollo said. "One colonel at a time, the council feels, and Father agreed with them. What we settled on, and what he finally got the Council to sign off on, is a new rank, between colonel and captain."
"That'll work," Boomer said. "What are they calling it? You?"
Starbuck raised an eyebrow.
"Well," Apollo said defensively, "it's metrons better than what the Council proposed. I was not going to introduce myself by saying, 'Hi, I'm Super-Captain Apollo.'"
Starbuck snickered. Even Boomer choked back a laugh.
"My point exactly." Apollo signaled the servitor. "One more and then I'm off, too... Anyway, next secton you two, and Sheba and Bojay and Dietra and Jolly all make captain. Also my sister, and Kelvin and what's her name on second watch"
"Charis," Starbuck supplied helpfully.
"Trust you to know... yes. You all make captain."
"Captain Starbuck... now that has a nice ring to it."
"It has a distinctly surreal ring to it, you ask me," Boomer said, grinning.
"Then I don't think I will."
"And you make this sub-colonel?"
"Omega and I both. Strike and Ops."
"Nice for 'Theni," Starbuck observed. "A big jump in pay for both of 'em."
Apollo considered that for a moment. "Well, at least he's not Father's son-in-law yet."
"Oh, come on," Starbuck objected. "Sure he's allying himself with the royal family, but nobody can doubt he's getting this on his own merits."
"We're not the royal family," Apollo objected.
"Come on, Starbuck, lay off the sub-colonel," said Boomer.
Starbuck did. It was a sore subject, actually. Anybody with eyes could see it happening, but in fact Apollo wasn't any happier about it than Starbuck, so there was no point in harassing him over it. He went backwards a bit for a less contentious subject. "You really think we'll be out here another twenty yahrens?"
"Oh, who knows? What did you used to say?"
"Before you told me to knock it off 'cause it upset your father?" Starbuck grinned. "I used to say, you ask me how to get to Umbra from Caprica City and I say, walk due west. Which is all fine and dandy... except it's four thousand metrics. You're gonna be walking a long damned time."
"Yes. That's what I mean... we've got a heading, and no distance units at all. Who knows how long we'll be traveling. Who even knows whether they think about time at all?"
"A thousand yahrens is like a day," quoted Starbuck.
"You are a very depressing man, Sub-Colonel," said Boomer, semi-seriously.
"True," agreed Starbuck.
"Okay, Captains, I can take a hint. I'm going home. See you later."
Athena came into the squadron leader's office. She was still in uniform, so Starbuck assumed she was just finishing up her duty shift.
"Hi," he leaned back in the chair and looked up at her. "What's up?"
"I can't decide," she said reflectively, sitting on the corner of his desk, "why it is that if you'd ever asked me what 'Captain Starbuck, squadron leader' would be like, I'd have said 'an unqualified disaster', yet it seems to fit you like your dress uniform."
"Is that an insult?" he asked, though he was sure it wasn't.
"It wasn't meant to be," she said.
"Then all I can say is, you're not the only person who wonders."
She laughed with him, and then sobered up again. "Things seem so strange, don't they?"
"Any things in particular?"
"Well... here we are. Eleven yahrens and we can only assume we're closer to Earth than when we started... but we're just going on."
"I know," he said. "Sometimes I think we should pick a nice planet and just stop. The kids don't even know what grass is. Or weather." They stared at their own little dark places for a centon or two and then he shook himself out of it. "Did you want something, 'Theni? Or did you just come because you can't bear not seeing me every three or four days?"
That won him a laugh. "I've got a request, Starbuck. Well, two, though I guess Zeffie's old enough now I should ask her herself to be in my wedding."
"I would never have guessed she'd set a fashion for being in Sealing ceremonies, all things considered," he said. "I think she will for you, though at eleven she's feeling a bit old for flower girling." He paused a minute. "I guess I should say congratulations, shouldn't I?"
"It is customary."
"So's running in squealing when you announce it," he teased.
"Starbuck, I'm well over thirty. I don't run and squeal any more."
"Too bad for your husband."
"Starbuck," she said, "grow up."
He pretended to consider it. "Naah," he said. "What was the other thing?"
"Stand up with me," she said.
He stared at her. "You're serious?"
"You're my best friend," she said seriously. "I want you there."
"What does Omega think?"
"He likes you," she said.
"I like him, but that's not what I meant."
"He thinks it's fine. Really. He thinks I should have whoever I want, and traditions don't matter as much as we think they do any more."
"Most people think they matter more," he observed.
"He's not the most conventional man I've met, in a lot of ways."
Starbuck looked curious, but all he asked was, "So who's he picking? Rigel?"
"Idiot," she said. "He doesn't have a whole lot of friends... Tigh is standing with him."
"Tigh?" He exaggerated his amazement but not by much. "He's got Colonel Tigh and you're picking me?"
"What does who he has have to do with it?" Then she relented. "Tigh's probably the person he's closest to on the ship, besides me and you. He'd have asked you if I didn't want you."
"He's definitely the felix that walks by himself, isn't he?" Starbuck said, referring to one of Zeffie's favorite stories. Not that she'd ever seen a live felix except on instructional field trips to the agro or livestock ships.
Athena grew pensive. "Gods, Starbuck, he lost so many people it's really surprising he ever decided to take a chance again."
"You'll make him glad he did," Starbuck asserted.
"Or know why," she agreed. "So? Will you?"
"If you want me, I'd be honored." Then he smiled. This was beginning to give a whole new meaning to the old saying, always standing with, never standing...
"What are you grinning at?"
He pulled something out of the air. "I don't have to buy something frilly, do I?"
She laughed. "Gods, it would be worth it... something lacy and off the shoulder..."
"I think I have to wash my hair that day." He was laughing, too.
"Oh, what a picture," she gasped. When she finally got herself under controlan undertaking sabotaged twice by an injudiciously timed look at himshe said, with obvious reluctance, "No. We decided on dress uniforms."
"Oh, well, then..." He smiled. "You know I'll be happy to."
"You know what I was thinking?" Boomer asked as the three of them walked away from the ready room, off-duty at last and heading for the O Club and a drink before going home. "If we could figure out some way to get you on one side of the enemy, and Bojay on the other, and then tell him where you were, anybody up to and including a base star who was on line of sight between you would be incinerated."
"It's not funny," Apollo remonstrated. "I don't like having two of my squadron leaders hating each other's guts."
"I don't hate Bojay," Starbuck said.
"Like hell," Boomer said conversationally.
"He's not my favorite person in the universe," Starbuck conceded. "We used to get along okay, back before he got transferred to the Pegasus. Absence certainly didn't make our hearts grow fonder, but it's not a big deal. We can work together. If we have to"
"You may not hate him," Boomer said. "But he hates you."
"I've been hated by better men than him. I'm still here." Starbuck shrugged. "Besides, hate's a strong word."
"Yeah, well, I agree with Boomer. He hates you. I don't know why, but he does. So far it's not interfering with his duty, but... and you don't make it better, you know that, Starbuck."
"I don't hate him, but he's an idiot," Starbuck protested. "I can't pretend I don't think so. You want me to support his lame-brained schemes?"
"No, but you could try being a little more diplomatic in the way you reject them."
"Something besides 'only the emperor of idiots would think that was a good idea'," added Boomer.
"Okay, maybe that wasn't as tactful as it could have been"
"You think not?"
"but it was probably as tactful as I could have been, under the circumstances. I mean, come on, Purple Squadron is not the official source of sacrificial lambets for the fleet. Glory's all well and good, but what's the point of it if you're not around to capitalize on it?"
"Starbuck," Apollo remonstrated.
"Oh, sorry," Starbuck grinned. "What I meant was, we're willing to share the glory with the rest of the wing. Especially with Red Squadron. We're willing to let them have the rest of the suicier, I mean, medal opportunities for the rest of the yahren."
"I just bet you are... What is it between you two, anyway?"
"I don't know. Just your basic personality conflict, I guess."
Starbuck had no intention of going into it with Apollo. With anybody, in fact, but with Apollo least of all. Bojay could glare at him from now till the Endtimes; it wasn't going to go any further than that, because Starbuck knew what was going on. They both did.
Starbuck had liked Bojay once, though they'd never been extremely close, not like him and Boomer for instance. Very not likethey'd fallen into bed together once or twice after drinking or when the adrenaline surged too high. But then Bojay had been transferred. And then when he'd come back...
Five days after Bojay got out of the life center, almost two sectons after the Pegasus had taken off again, Starbuck had walked into a turbolift to find Bojay there. And been greeted with: "You better keep your mouth shut about me."
Starbuck had blinked. "Listen, Bojay, you've never been my main topic of conversation."
"Yeah? You better keep it that way."
"Look, just because we used to" Starbuck hadn't gotten to finish.
"Shut the frack up," Bojay had snarled. "I don't do that any more. I learned better on the Pegasus. That was a righteous ship. I saw the light there."
"How nice for you," Starbuck had said, and it had ended with him having to leave Bojay gasping for air in the corner of the turbolift.
But he didn't hate Bojay. He felt sorry for him. He knew the kind of light Bojay had seen on the Pegasus: the kind that came when four or five pairs of boots were kicking you senseless. Starbuck had glimpsed that light himself. The difference was, Bojay had started carrying it around himself and Starbuck just headed for the darkest shadow he could find when he spotted it... But as long as he didn't let Bojay and any of his buddies from Silver Spar catch him alone someplace deserted, there wasn't anything to worry about. And by now, over ten yahrens later, well... Bojay was all glare and no dare, all talk, no walk.
So there wasn't any point in talking about it with Apollo, who wouldn't be at all happy to hear it, any of it.
So instead, Starbuck dismissed it all breezily and said, "Djan still talking about joining up?"
Apollo smiled. Starbuck hoped he looked at least slightly more intelligent when he talked about Zephyr. "Yes," Apollo said, "he is. He's taking the tests next secton. It's all he can talk about. Well, it's all he's ever wanted to be, you know."
"He's got quite a tradition to live up to," Boomer observed. "I'm hoping Callie and Corrie want to be doctors, myself."
"You know," Apollo said, "Starbuck here was cruel to his daughter, depriving her of a pet. But I'll just bet your two would love a dagget"
In the discussion which followed they forgot Bojay.
Which was a mistake.
Because Bojay wasn't forgetting them.
"Zeff?" Starbuck was starting to get very worried. It wasn't like her to shut herself up in her room and not talk. Slam around their quarters and yell, yes, but not this quiet silence.
She didn't answer.
"Zeff, if you don't at least let me know you're still alive, I'm going to have to come in and check on you."
After a moment, her door opened. She looked at him through tangled red hair that hid half her face; her eyes were distressed and there was a catch in her voice when she said, "No, you won't."
"Zeff, what's wrong?"
"It doesn't matter," she said. "It's okay."
"Yeah, you look like it's okay," he said, reaching to push some of hair back behind her ears.
She pulled away, and then, quite suddenly, the tears in her big brown eyes overflowed and ran down her face and she grabbed him, hanging on like she was afraid he was going somewhere. Without her.
He held her close, clueless as to the cause of her pain and feeling a helpless anger that was frightening in its intensity. "Zeffie," he said. "Please tell me what's wrong."
What she said startled him with its apparent innocuousness, but only for a moment. "We had our blood typed today in life sciences."
He wasn't sure what to say. He wasn't even sure why he'd never thought about this moment, which was almost bound to come up. Probably he'd been thinking it was someone else who'd find out and that it would be to his advantage to appear ignorant and surprised...
While he was thinking she was going on, not knowing he already knew. "I'm a 3." When he still said nothing, she repeated, louder, "A 3!"
"3 is lucky," he said, for want of anything else. He needed to know why she was upset before he started talking, that much seemed clear.
"3s have to have a 1 and a 2 for parents! I've seen your identity tags! You're a 0! You can't be my father. My mother lied to you..." she sobbed again, trying half-heartedly to pull away. "I'm not yours..."
Okay. Problem identified. He tightened his arm around her shoulders and stroked her hair, carding his fingers gently through the unruly locks. "I knew that, Zeffie," he said. "I knew that all along."
She stopped trying to pull away and put her arms around his ribs. "You did?" Her voice was hopeful.
He picked her up and crossed over to sit on her bed. She snuggled into his lap, resting her face against his heart, sniffling a little. "You did?" she repeated.
"Your mom was an honest woman," he said. "She never told me you were mine. She came to me for help, because she was sick, just like I said. And then she died. And because I loved you the centon I saw you, I knew I couldn't let them take you away. They would have, Zeff, I was a single man, a fighter pilot and back then we fought Cylons nearly every secton, not just now and again. And I was a little on the wild side" That got him a chuckle, albeit still somewhat teary. "All in all, not a good bet for child-raising. No one was going to hand me a baby to raise; they'd just have said how noble I was to offer and taken you off to the Orphan Ship. I know, I always did know, I didn't father you, but I've been your dad, and I always will be. Okay?" He put his hand under her chin and raised her face.
She smiled at him. Her face was a little tear-stained still perhaps, but she wasn't crying any more. "You didn't tell anyone, though?"
"Dr. Salik knew," Starbuck said. "He gave me all the forms... I pretty much signed my life away a dozen yahrens ago."
This time her smile was brighter, though still only a shadow of its usual incandescent self. "You won't send me away?"
"Never," he said simply. "And they'll take you away over my dead body"
He smiled at her, brushing her cheek with the back of his hand. "But since that would prove sort of awkward as far as living goes, I didn't see any point in giving anybody any reasons to start trying." He wondered how long it would take someone to come around about it, and how hard the fight would be, and what his options were...
She grinned at him, her don't-get-mad-now grin. "I didn't know what to do this afternoon," she confessed. "I was all tangled up inside... so I cheated."
He blinked on her. "Cheated? On a blood test? How did you do that?"
"Well," she drew little circles with her forefinger on the front of his uniform shirt under his jacket. "They let us do it ourselves if we wanted. Instead of a tech. And then the tech came around and checked... I was scared. She might know your type or, or, anything. I didn't know what to do... so I took the one with the 2 antigen and threw it away when nobody was looking and I got some more of my blood and put it in a dish and then pretended that I'd put 2 antigen in it. I figured she wouldn't have noticed and she didn't..."
"So," he said, "they think you're a 1?"
"It's okay, isn't it? I mean, 3s can get 1 blood, right?"
"Yes," he said. "It's all right as far as that goes. But you can't give blood to 1s, you know that. And," it occurred to him and he tightened his hold on her, "Zeff, if you were to really need blood and there were only 2s or 3s around"
"I didn't care," she said defiantly. "I'd rather die. I was afraid if you found out, you wouldn't... and then I knew I had to tell you... Even if"
She hugged him tight. "I love you, dad."
"I love you, Zeffie. I always have. You're my girl. Okay?"
"Always," she sighed happily, and then looked up at him, her brown eyes sparkling again. "If it worries you, when I go in for training I'll be too old for them to take away, won't I? I can get them to type me again, I bet."
"You are my girl, you know that?"
Starbuck yielded to temptation and went into the smoky little bar for a drink on his way back to the Galactica. Just one, to wash the taste of bad news out of his mouth; the worst thing about being a squadron leader was dealing with his pilots' personal lives. Especially when they screwed up... And was it just him, or were they getting younger all the time?
He downed a third of the ambrosamade last week from the tasteand shook his head. Then he turned around and looked over the bar while he wondered if he wanted to finish it or not. He didn't expect to see anybody he knew, not here, so his eyes had slid over the corner table and moved on before the figures registered. He looked back. It was.
And she'd spotted him, of course.
Now, as their eyes met, Sheba gestured at him to come over. After a moment, he decided to. Picking up his glass, he threaded his way through the dimly lit room. By the time he got to her table, Rail had considerately (or cravenly) gone off somewhere else.
"Sit down, Starbuck," she invited him.
He did. "I wouldn't have thought this was your sort of place."
She shrugged. "I could say the same thing, but I won't bother." Her brown eyes met his, their gaze steady.
"I was just passing," he said, not wanting her to think he'd been looking for her. In fact, he wished he hadn't seen her. Them. Lords knew she didn't seem to spend much of her time with her husband, but the last thing Starbuck wanted to do was get in the middle of that marriage. It had been hard enough to adjust to, but Apollo seemed perfectly content. Still, Starbuck didn't want to be aiding and abetting any more than he wanted to be carrying tales and upsetting him. In fact, he realized, he didn't want his accidental discovery to prompt Sheba into doing something to upset Apollo. But he rather doubted he carried enough moral clout to make her straighten up. Lords, what a mess, he thought. He took another drink.
"Whatever," she dismissed his motions and motives alike. "I'm asking you not to mention, to anybody, that you saw me here tonight."
"Sheba," he started and realized he honestly didn't know what he wanted to say.
After a moment she said, "It won't make Apollo happy to know."
"Asking me to think you care about his happiness," he said gently, "is rather ridiculous, don't you think?"
She shrugged again. "I don't. No," she corrected herself. "I do. Just not anything like as much as I used to. But you do." Her gaze was locked on his.
He was silent a centon. Well, he'd never thought Sheba was a fool. "I guess it depends on what you mean by happiness," he said finally. "But sometimes momentary pain"
"Momentary?" She almost smiled. "Starbuck, we're Sealed. You can't get out of that. If you believe some of those priests, it lasts after death: we'll all be together in Heaven, him and me and Serina. And won't that be jolly?" she added, her mouth twisted.
He had to sympathize.
"Besides," she said, "he's as happy as he gets, right now. I know him well enough to know that. So do you. So why should all of us be unhappy?"
Because he'd always felt that his conversations with her were fencing matches, he didn't answer that right away. But after examining it he said, "I'm not unhappy."
"I'm glad to hear it." That sounded sincere. "Nor am I, anymore. Nor is he. Why ruin it?"
"I thought you didn't care."
She smiled and ducked her head, acknowledging the hit. "But I'm still fond of him, Starbuck. Not as much as I used to be, but realer, I think. I'm not hurting him. And I don't want to."
"You shouldn't have married him." He was a bit surprised to hear that come out as an observation.
"No," she admitted readily. "I shouldn't have. You'll understand why I did, though." She smiled ruefully. "Though I'll bet you don't really understand why I shouldn't have."
He started to speak, and then stopped. Apollo had never let him inside his marriage (not that that was a surprise), but something in Sheba's unusually candid gaze told him that things had never been what they seemed. Quite suddenly he didn't want to hear any more, know any more. Apollo hadn't been happy for a while early on, and now he was; that much was true. If, somehow, that happiness coincided with (sprang from?) Sheba's spending time with someone else, well... Well. It wasn't like Starbuck knew anything about marriages.
And he certainly didn't want to hear why Sheba shouldn't have married Apollo. Not with him locked into the Sealing by vows he'd never want to break regardless of what his wife did. Starbuck finished his ambrosa. "Well, either way, you did. Or he did. And you're right: he's happy. I'm not going be the one that spoils it for him."
"Neither am I," she said, and if her tone left a lot implied but unspoken Starbuck was content to leave it like that.
Out of the corner of his eye as he was leaving he saw Rail rejoin her.
"But, Dad," she insisted, "everybody's going."
"Not everybody," he said as patiently as he could, which, truth be told, wasn't that much. "You're not."
"Dad!" she cried out as though he'd hit her. "Everybody's going! You can't make me stay!"
"'Everybody's going' is not a good reason," he said. "If everybody was jumping out an airlock, would you want to?"
"That's so stupid," she said. "This is just a party."
"If it's 'just' a party, it won't kill you to miss it." He gave up being patient. "And you're going to."
"You can't make me stay here!"
"Yes, I can," he corrected her. "I'm your father. And I'm bigger than you. But I don't have to 'make' you, do I?"
She glared at him. "I hate you!" she announced, passionately. "I hate you forever!" Whirling, she ran into her sleeping room. "And I'm never talking to you ever again as long as I live!" she added before the door shut.
He stared after her with a sinking feeling in his gut. The only way that could have gone worse was if she'd said "You're not my father!" Not that "I hate you!" was much of an improvement. Gods, Starbuck, what made you think you could raise a child?
Zephyr stayed in her room the rest of the evening and, true to her vow, didn't speak to him the next morning before flouncing off to her morning fieldball practice. She did, however, address a bitter comment to her gear: "I'll be the only one there who didn't get to go."
He'd managed to ignore that, though he hoped it wasn't true. He might not be the greatest father in the Fleet, but he sure as Hades knew better than to let his thirteen-yahren-old daughter go off to a party on the Rising Star with only a bunch of friends her own age. And he hoped her friends' parents knew better, too; he didn't want her hanging around with kids who got to do that sort of thing.
And he didn't want to cut her off from her friends; gods knew, that never really worked. Not if Zac had been any indication... He sighed. Adama occasionally muttered things about Zeff's mother, but then again Adama was, like Apollo, almost endearingly naive about why whores got into the business. It was Zeff's father's recklessness Starbuck worried about.
On the other hand, Zeff couldn't get any madder at him. I hate you forever was pretty final. He stared at the wall until the comm chimed.
"Starbuck?" Athena said. "My husband's just told me he's taking an extra shift tonight, don't ask me why because I couldn't tell you, and I've got reservations for dinner. I thought maybe you could park Zeff with someone and join me?"
"Zeff," he said involuntarily.
"Uh-oh," she said. "That sounds ominous. What's happened?"
If it hadn't been Athena he probably wouldn't have said anything. "She hates me."
There was a pause, and then she said, "I'll be right over."
Five centons later she was sitting down across the table from him with a cup of hot kava and saying, "She hates you? That seems very unlikely to me."
"She said she did."
Athena smiled suddenly. "Oh? Did she by any chance say she hates you forever and she'll never ever speak to you again even if she lives to be a million?"
He found himself relaxing. "Is that usual, then?"
"Lords, yes. If I had a decicubit for every time I'd said it... How did you blight her young life, anyway?"
He grinned involuntarily. "I wouldn't let her go to a party. She's pretty mad at me."
"She won't stay that way," Athena reassured him. "On the other hand, this won't be the first time, either." She shook her head. "How'd you miss being on the receiving end one of Djan's snit-fits, anyhow?"
He shrugged. "I guess I never got to say no to him... I usually saw him when he was being moody, looking for support."
"Count yourself lucky. He didn't get mad all that often, really, but when he did..." She blew out a gusty breath and shook her head. "He was awful. I bet Zeff gets over it much more quickly; she's a lot more..."
"Volatile?" suggested Starbuck.
"Well, maybe. Prone to emotional displays."
"So she doesn't really hate me?"
Athena laughed and then sobered up. "I'm sorry... No. She doesn't hate you. Of course not. I think that's hard-wired in teenagers. I don't know anybody who didn't say it to their parents. It's just part of adolescence."
He heaved a sigh of his own. "Just one more thing I don't know."
"You did the right thing, Starbuck," she said, putting her hand on his. "You didn't let her go to the party but you did let her go to practice this morning. You stood your ground and you didn't overreact. And she'll appreciate it."
"That seems unlikely."
"Oh, she will. I know you've heard this, but kids do need limits. She needs to know you care about her, that you won't let her do things you don't approve of. It's proof you love her."
He shook his head. "I don't know, 'Theni. Maybe I'm in over my head."
"Kids don't come with instruction manuals, Starbuck. But you're doing fine. If Apollo could raise Djan, you can raise Zeff."
"He had help."
"So do you. And Zeff will get over this, trust me. She'll be mad for a bit, but she knows you're rightwhich is annoying her more than anything else, I'll bet. She'll get over it."
"I hope so."
"She will. Trust me." She grinned. "It may take a couple of days, but she'll talk to you again."
He found himself grinning back. "At the moment, I'm not sure I want her to."
"Apollo, will you calm down, for gods' sakes?" Starbuck grabbed him by the arm and yanked him to a stop. "If I have to cuff you to the storage unit to make you stand still, I will." The image that came, unbidden, to his mind almost made him blush.
Fortunately, Apollo didn't pick up on it. Or maybe not fortunately... poor 'Pol, he thought. No games? No even talking about games? Though it didn't surprise him, thinking about it, that Apollo didn't want to play games. It did surprise, a little, that Sheba didn't... he wouldn't have, if Apollo didn't, just Apollo would have been enough but he would have thought Sheba... Though maybe this was one reason whyThis is not the time or the place, even if either of those existed, he cut himself off.
Apollo stood still, though. Starbuck tugged gently at the pectoral and untangled the three strands that had somehow wrapped around each other. Then he shook his head and began carefully freeing the small chain that was supposed to be hanging free framing the pectoral but was, as usual on Apollo, wound around the individual strands instead. "When you take this off," Starbuck said, "what do you do, toss it in a drawer?"
"This is stupid."
"Maybe," Starbuck said, "but it's about five millennia of tradition and I don't think you're changing anybody's mind. Besides, it's your son's graduation, and you're the keynote speaker, and you'll embarrass everyone who knows you if you show up looking like this. Stand still!" He spared a moment to wonder why Apollo hadn't even mentioned Sheba's absence, and then shook that off, not really wanting to know, to say, "There. Done. Where's the cape?"
"I'm not wearing that until I get there."
"You sound worse than Djan did back when he was Boxey. It's the uniform. You have to wear it."
"And you sound like my father." But he picked up the cape.
"Come on, Apollo," Starbuck said, "don't tell me you're not proud of him. So he didn't graduate first; he's in the top five percent, and he's a good pilot."
"Of course I'm proud of him," Apollo said. "I've told him so. I never pushed him to go into the academy and I never made him think he had to be first in his class"
No, but he knew you had, and Sheba made it clear you'd be prouder if he did... But Djan's got his head on straight, I think. He's okay.
"and I am proud and I want to give this damned speech. I just hate dressing up. You know that."
"Yes, I do. I also know you look good in that, and just because you'd rather be wearing your jacket and blaster doesn't mean you don't. Look good. And there are times when you have to dress up. You know that. Now put on the cape and let's go, or you'll be late."
Apollo heaved a martyred sigh.
"Zeffie!" Starbuck called. "Let's go, sweetheart. Your uncle and I can't be late."
"They can't start without him," she said, but since she was coming out of her room at the time Starbuck let it slide.
"I wish I could wear a uniform," she said.
"A few yahrens yet, Zeff," he said.
"Wow," Apollo said sincerely. "You look beautiful, Zeffie."
"Thanks, Uncle Apollo," she said.
Starbuck regarded her. She did. Her mane of dark red hair was tumbled carelessly around her shouldershe was pretty sure she hadn't spent much time on it, but it looked very goodand she wore a small pair of silver earrings that Adama had given her on her thirteenth birthday. Around her throat she wore 'Theni's present for that significant milestone, a small iridescent fire opal on a slender chain. Starbuck had protested that gift to 'Theni later, somewhat hopelessly as he'd known there was no way to take it away from Zephyr once she'd seen it, but 'Theni had told him, gravely, that it had been sitting in its box at the back of a drawer in Omega's quarters since just before Cimtar, a present for his youngest sister, and there was no way, even if they had a daughter, that he'd be easy about keeping it and yet he couldn't get rid of it, either. Giving it to Zeffie, though, that worked for everyone. 'He's a lucky man,' Starbuck had said, and made sure Zeffie knew how important it was not to lose it.
Himself, he hadn't realized thirteen was such a big thing for girls. Apollo and Athena had told him, and so had Boomer and Jolly and Dietra... he'd had no idea what to get her. Jewelry was best, they'd all said, and he'd been thinking about hunting along the pawn shops on the Star's lower deck for a ladies' chrono when he'd seen the perfect thing. The whole House of Adama, from the patriarch to Djan, had rolled their eyes when she'd unwrapped it, but Zeffie had stared at it, speechless, for an entire centon and then launched herself over the kava table to nearly choke the breath out of him. She wore the opal a lot, but she was never without the damascene-bladed Sagittan boot-knife with the single brilliant in the hilt.
He was sure she had it now, under that floating dark-green dress she was wearing.
He'd taught her to use it, just as he'd taught her to shoot and to fight barehanded, including every dirty trick he'd ever seen. Looking at her tonight, he realized that fourteen is just shy of fifteen, which is practically sixteen... he sighed to himself. Maybe he'd better sit her down soon and talk about boys.
Not about sex. She knew about that. About boys and what daggets they could be...
But not tonight. Tonight was Djan's big night. And they couldn't be late.
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