The techs pushed past them to sprint for the shuttle. Bojay looked from them to Starbuck, one eyebrow raised.
"We don't want that one," Starbuck said, looking at his chrono. "We've got ten centons still."
Bojay glanced at the schedule posted near the lift and asked, "He lives on the Senior Ship?"
"For some reason, that surprises me."
"It shouldn't. It's free... Well, everything is free, I guess," though money hadn't lost its power of easing things along, "but it's more like a retirement home than a housing development."
"I guess that's it. The retirement part."
"Oh, he's not retired," Starbuck assured him. "He's just living sweet." He shook his head. "With Siress Blassie." He remembered the little frisson of recognition that had hit him as he listened to Chameleon describing how he'd picked up the siress. Of course, he reflected, it was more like the faded beauty had picked up the aging conman, but still... It was all a little too close to home for comfort.
Bojay was silent.
"Oh, go ahead and say it," Starbuck said. "I did."
Bojay didn't, only asked, obliquely, "You think it's inheritable?""
"I think I'm enough like him that it's almost scary."
"I mean, look at him. He's got to be a hundred, and he's still working cons, running scams, and living off women."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
Starbuck sighed. "Give me a break. I'm trying to reform"
"Come on, Buck." Bojay sounded exasperated. "You never lived off anybody in your life. Maybe you went through women like they were cold drinks, but so did I. So did a lot of people. It was just part of being what we were. Which was young, mostly, and Viper pilots the rest of it."
"You seem to have grown out of it."
"You, too. And before you say I did it first, I went through it first. Anyway," he added before Starbuck could have asked him what he meant, "you may be like him, but not as much as all that. You think he was ever in the Service?"
"Probably not." Starbuck paused, remembering showing the cockpit to the old man; had he been feigning his ignorance even then, still making the mark feel smarter? No: it had taken a genuine lack of knowledge to fire off a Viper's lasers inside the launch tubes. "I'm pretty sure not."
"Well, then." It sounded as if Bojay thought that ended the discussion.
"He probably didn't have my incentive." Even as he said it he caught himself thinking, not his parents, just his wife and son...
Bojay snorted, interrupting the thought. "Most people in the Service didn't have that. And anyway, that's part of it. He didn't raise you. Whatever you might resemble him in, it would have to be purely nature, and that's not that strong."
"Sons turn out like their fathers, you know they do."
"Some sons do," Bojay said. "I didn't. Never wanted to work the land in my whole life... For every son you can think of who did, I know you can think of at least two who didn't."
Starbuck thought about that. He knew he always thought of Apollo and Adama when he thought about this, but he had to admit it: even there it hadn't always worked out. Zac had joined up, but not out any sense of Duty or Honour. "Maybe you're right."
"You know I am."
Fortunately, the shuttle's arrival meant that Starbuck didn't have to answer that, and Bojay let him get away with it. Not surprisingly, they were the only two who got onto the shuttle. It was fairly empty, so they didn't have any trouble finding seats alone towards the back. Bojay sat first, leaning into the angle of the seatback and the wall, and said, "I still don't know why I'm here."
"Don't you?" Starbuck dropped down beside him, pleased out of proportion to be sitting on the outside again. "I told you, you're my wingman."
"That doesn't make any sense. You can't think you're going to need back up. And you can't want me listening to this conversation. You can't want anyone."
"No," Starbuck admitted, "I don't want anyone. I do want you, though."
Starbuck shrugged. "To tell the truth I don't really know what I'm going to say to him. Especially if he says what I think he will. That's where you come in."
"I still don't get it."
"I need you watching. If I give you the high sign, you barge in and tell me I'm late for something." He grinned half-heartedly. "Like that time on Cler."
Bojay smiled reminiscently. "That was fun."
"I'm glad you thought so."
"It was one of the few times Hafez nailed only you."
"There was never a time when it was only you," Starbuck realized for the first time.
"Not after you showed up."
Bojay's lips quirked. "Not with Hafez." Then he sobered. "I was sorry to hear about him."
"Me, too." He had been; when the Sperry had gone up in the fiery destruction at Pitchett, more than a yahren before Molecay, it had seemed inconceivable that that dark-eyed, sarcastic presence had just vanished. It had seemed more reasonable after he'd learned that Hafez had taken an Assailer with him.
After all, no one lived forever.
But he hadn't really thought about Hafez since the man had left the Galactica. Not even when he'd heard about his death, not really thought about him. Like he hadn't thought about much from the past; the truth was, Boomer had been right when he'd said, yahrens ago, that Starbuck was 'out of sight, out of mind' come to life. Starbuck's rejoinder had been a mild "At least I'm back in sight, back in mind, too," which Boomer had admitted was both true and good; but the truth was, Starbuck hadn't understood how Boomer could be so single-heartedly devotedworse, actually faithfulto Sarai, seven yahrens then and nearly a dozen by the time the Cylons had rendered it pointless. He'd never actually said to Boomer that the other man had been wasting time he could have enjoyed, but then there were a lot of things Starbuck thought that he never said. And he could recognize things he didn't understand.
Bojay had been pursuing his own line of thought. "I think you just drew the eye. And so the fire."
"Story of my life," he joked, but actually it hadn't been, and wasn't. There weren't many people he'd put himself in the way for, even counting the dead ones: Cass, Boj, Apollo, Zac, Ila... Boomer, he decided, even now. Maybe he should add Jolly and Bean, after yesterday, but he wasn't sure that was the kind of list you could just add someone to. They were either on it or they weren't.
Bojay shook his head. "You should grow up."
"You didn't use to say that."
Bojay's grin was a bit self-conscious. "Vulpine who lost his tail, I expect."
"You really think you're going to need me there?"
"I might. Depends on what he has to say."
"You know, though?"
Starbuck leaned back and looked up at the roof of the shuttle. "I think so. But hearing him say it, hearing his excuses for not saying it before, hearing his reasons for it all... I just don't know what I'll say."
"Well, I don't want to get arrested for punching out a civilian."
"Is that likely?"
Starbuck closed his eyes. "Sometimes lately there's nothing I want to do more."
Keeping his eyes closed he answered, "Sometimes. And sometimes..." He sighed. "I just don't know."
"Well, I'll do my best to stop you from slugging the man," Bojay promised.
He still sounded a bit bemused, Starbuck thought, but he was a bit shy of explaining why he really wanted the other man there. It wasn't just that Bojay would stop himor at least would pull him off before he did any permanent damage, though that would help, since it would mean he could say whatever he thought of. It was that just having him there where he could be seen would, well... it would ground Starbuck. It would remind him that Chameleon wasn't the final arbiter of his worth, that there was at least one person willing to throw it all away for him, one person for whom he was enough.
He cracked open his left eye to sneak a glance sideways. Bojay was looking out the window at the stars between the ships. He took a longer look, with both eyes. One person who was enough for him... because he was enough for them? Was that why it was working now, when it hadn't before? Because it wasn't entirely fair to say no one had ever cared for him before. But he and Cass had not wanted each other at the same time, and Apollo had never wanted him for ever, and the same for Athena, and Cnynda, it turned out, had wanted him for an even shorter time, and whoever Aurora had wanted it hadn't been him, and no one else had, period. Not for more than he'd wanted of them, a few good times.
Or, he watched the brightly-lit shape of the Colonial Movers pass behind Bojay's head, had it always been this holding him back, keeping him from wanting someone who wanted him, because he didn't think they'd keep it up? That first desertion, so thought...
Or was that even true?
He'd begun to think, in the late watches and the dark centares, that maybe he'd been abandoned most of his life. Ever since Cass had started her campaign of prodding there'd been more than her nagging at him. Maybe his categorizing losing his parents as abandonment had been more than just childish emotions.
How had Chameleon managed to survive the attack on Umbra? Why hadn't any of the other survivors known who he was, languishing in his amnesiac state? Maybe they wouldn't have known his small child, but him? Had he even been there when the Cylons came?
He sighed, and saw Bojay's eyes move in the glassite of the window to look at him. They held each other's gazes without speaking, and Starbuck knew, whatever the truth was, he wouldn't have been able to do this without the other man at his back.
They were quiet until the shuttle docked.
The landing bay was mostly empty. The two or three men there glanced up at the pilots, but didn't speak to them. Starbuck wasn't surprised by that; he was usually left alone when he came over to see Chameleon. The Senior Ship didn't seem to be staffed by people with any real curiosity about the what went on in the rest of the Fleet. "C'mon," he said and headed for the bay doors. Bojay trailed after him, not saying anything; his presence was comforting nonetheless.
Siress Blassie opened the door the way she always did, looking faintly embarrassed at doing it herself. Someday, Starbuck had thought several times before, she'd find someone willing to live with her and do for her all those little things a siress wasn't supposed to do. And not her consort, of course; that was just as bad. Well, things are tough all over, he thought now, and then the embarrassment left her eyes and she smiled the smile that must have had them on their knees even sixty yahrens ago, let alone in her first youth. "Starbuck, darling," she said gaily, kissing his cheek. "You've been such a stranger of late! Come in, come in, and your friend, too," she added, smiling over Starbuck's shoulder at Bojay.
Starbuck immediately felt a bit graceless and guilty. She'd always treated him kindly, even if she'd been quietly puzzled by the relationship between Chameleon and him. Whatever her motives might be, she'd been... He wondered, suddenly, what she suspected, or knew. He supposed she might be his step-mother one day, if he was right in his suspicions and she managed to catch Chameleon
"Starbuck?" She was looking at him puzzedly.
"I'm sorry, Siress Blassie," he said. "I can't stay"
"Now, how many times do I have to tell you?" She tapped his arm playfully.
"I'm sorry, Blassie," he said again. He never could remember to drop the "Siress" when he talked to her. "I really can't stay, though; I'm on duty at two. Is Chameleon in? I need to talk to him."
"They work you young men far too hard," she said. "It would do everyone's morale a great deal of good if they could see Warriors enjoying themselves a bit more often."
"You won't get any argument from me," Starbuck said. "But unfortunately the Commander doesn't agree with you. And I do need to talk to Chameleon."
She sighed theatrically. "There was a time young men stayed without my asking... No, don't answer that; it's an old woman's foolishness."
"Old?" said Starbuck almost automatically. "How old is Spring?"
She smiled brilliantly. "Sweet talker... Chameleon is in the lounge. Are you sure you can't stay at least for lunch?"
"I don't think so, Blassie. But thanks for asking."
"Well, are you at least leaving me your friend?" She smiled at them both.
"I need him more than you do, Blassie. For backup."
She laughed. "I suppose you do at that. Go on then. But, Starbuck"
He turned back to her.
"Don't stay away so long next time. He's missed you."
'He knows where I live' was his first thought, but he just smiled at her and left. When the door of the lift shut behind them, he said to Bojay, "He's missed me."
"Maybe he has."
Now he did say it. "He knows how to find me."
Bojay shrugged. "Maybe, but looking doesn't seem to be his strong suit."
Starbuck had to laugh. "No, he plays that in orange, doesn't he? If he has a trump suit at all." He leaned back against the wall. "I don't know if I'm much better, I guess."
"You play it in green, at least."
"Purple from now on."
Bojay raised an eyebrow. "Who else have you got to look for?"
Starbuck laughed again. "No one... That makes it so much easier."
"Buck," he said warningly.
"I'm here, aren't I?" he protested. "And you're not planning on getting lost, are you? But if you do," he promised Bojay's slow smile, "I'm done with waiting to be found, waiting for people to come back. I'm going hunting from now on."
Bojay didn't answer beyond keeping his smile, and all things considered Starbuck thought that was probably best, especially since the door was sliding open even as he spoke. He led the way down the corridor to the lounge. Chameleon was sitting at a table in the far corner, opposite the counter they'd set up as a bar; a glass was at his elbow and he was studying a pair of Pyramid hands laid out on the table in front of him. His thin form was clad in a dark blue tunic with a white garment over it that vaguely reminded Starbuck of the garment, stole or somethinghe couldn't remember the namethat Adama wore when he was being formal. He'd have bet his last decicube it was supposed to remind him of it. He hesitated, and then felt Bojay's hand between his shoulder blades. "Go on; I've got your back."
"Don't go away." Starbuck took a breath and made his way between the tables, smiling at the seniors who looked up as he passed. When he got close he stopped and said, "Chameleon?"
The old man looked up. His blue eyes warmed and he smiled, a wide, delighted smile. "Starbuck! Sit down, sit down," he gestured at the seat across from him. "It's good to see you, my boy. How long has it been? Too long," he answered himself without waiting for Starbuck to. "I suppose you've been busy; I understand the Wing has been completely reorganized?"
"Where did you hear that?" Starbuck asked before he could stop himself.
Chameleon shrugged casually. "Over on the Rising Star. I don't remember from whom precisely."
"From Cassiopeia, maybe?"
"Maybe." The old man looked a bit guilty, in a slightly theatrical way. Starbuck remembered when he'd first known him, when he'd taken his every expression and action at face value. Then he'd gone, almost without an intervening stage, to still liking him a great deal but believing virtually nothing he said or did. Now he wasn't sure he liked him... no. No, he still did; he just didn't want to. But he didn't believe him, and maybe he didn't believe him even when he was telling the truth.
Well, he thought, whose fault is that?
"She's a good girl," Chameleon was adding. "Concerned about you."
"Yes," Starbuck nodded. "She's thoughtful that way."
The old man raised his eyebrows, theatrically again. "So it's true," he said. "I'd hoped it wasn't."
"You'd hoped... What? That she wasn't thoughtful?"
"That you hadn't broken up with her."
"She didn't tell you?"
Chameleon shrugged. "Not in so many words, no. But she didn't bring you up any more, when we happened to meet, and when I did..." Another supple shrug. "It was nothing she said. It was the way she didn't say the things she used to say. And it's true, isn't it? You have. You broke up with her."
"Well, not that it's any of your business"
Chameleon shrugged. "I happen to care about you. Both of you."
"You have a" Starbuck paused. There was no point in getting into that.
"An odd way of showing it?" the old man asked, reading Starbuck's mind. "Maybe so. I can certainly see how you would think so. But it doesn't really matter, does it? The important thing is you, and Cassiopeia."
Starbuck leaned back in his chair, looking up at the ceiling. "We're over." He hoped that sounded final; Cass wasn't what he'd come here to talk about.
"Ah, but do you have to be? What did you do? Is it irredeemable?"
"I didn't do anything," Starbuck said, straightening up. "It was mutual. We aren't in love with each other."
"You told me you wanted to marry her. I know she wanted to marry you."
"She changed her mind. And," he added, cutting off Chameleon's attempt to answer, "as for me, it wasn't even true to start with."
Chameleon canted his head and raised an eyebrow. "Not true?"
Starbuck hadn't intended to say thatonce again his mouth was ahead of his brainand now that he had, he really didn't intend to get into the whole 'reminds me of your mother' bit. Even if Chameleon had been lying, too, it was a little bit, well, icky to think of being attracted to someone because she reminded you of your mother. Maybe if you thought about it being more like inheriting the same taste in women as your old man, if you didn't remember her yourself... On the other hand, he didn't really want to get into just exactly why he'd lied about it. Although... frack. Wasn't that why he was here? Why he had lied, after all. Because he'd wanted Chameleon, wanted his father, to be pleased with him.
The sudden spurt of anger took him by surprise. Even after a decada of watching his friends, especially Apollo, do the approval dance, he couldn't avoid it himself. Even now. For Sagan's sake, he thought. Grow up. Get it right for a change.
"No," he said. "It wasn't true. I mean, I was thinking about marrying her, that was true, but she was hardly the first woman I'd thought about. In fact, I actually asked someone else before I even met Cass." He thought it was a quite credible shrug. "But that's not the point. We broke up. We're not in love with each other. I didn't do anything; she didn't do anything. It's over." Like he wanted this topic to be. And the best way to end this... he hesitated a micron or two, and then decided he might as well jump right into it. "See that pilot over there?" He jerked his head backwards.
Chameleon raised his head, and Starbuck turned as well. Bojay was leaning up against the wall, arms crossed, watching four old women playing dragon-tile. He probably wasn't following the game but he looked like he was enjoying himself. Maybe he was, at that, Starbuck thought; he did enjoy the damnedest things.
A look of puzzlement came over the old man's face. "Him?" He glanced at Starbuck, back at Bojay, and back at Starbuck again. "You mean"
"Yes, I mean," Starbuck answered, cutting to the chase. "He's with me."
"You traded Cassiopeia for him?"
"Not exactly. But close enough."
Chameleon hexed up the deck and laid it down in front of him. "I believe she's still fond of you."
Ah, yes; the guilt card. He'd seen that led before. Fortunately, it was actually playing to his strength: after all, she had dumped him. Twice. So, "Cass?" He shrugged. "She likes me, as far as that goes. Which is not that far, really." He laughed suddenly, thinking of Cain. "Style, charm, a little glitz... Takes her in, all right, but she doesn't stay dazzled for long. No, it would take more than me to break her heart, believe me."
Chameleon was quiet for what seemed like a very long time. Starbuck waited. "It concerns me," the old man said finally, "that you'd say that. You seem..." He paused, but only a moment. "You know, Starbuck, there's nothing wrong with charm, or style, or even a little glitz. Now I can see where you might not want to take my word on this," he shrugged slightly as Starbuck, blindsided, tried to think of something, anything at all, to say. "But people you like, people you respect, agree. After all, you have those things, and you're liked. Loved."
Starbuck still couldn't think of anything to say.
Chameleon rubbed his jaw reflectively. "I can see your point, of course; nothing but charm or style isn't anything that stands up to long exposure, anything that lasts. But you know what they say about honey and vinegar: a little charm may not go a long way but you'll go a lot farther with it than without."
Starbuck finally managed to say something. "If where you want to go is catching muscae, or other vermin, I suppose you're right"
Chameleon came down hard on his last word before he could continue. "Is Cassiopeia vermin?" His eyes were frosty fire. "Is he?" He jerked his thumb over in Bojay's direction.
"Of course not!"
"So you catch more. You catch more," he repeated with emphasis. "You, so you must be worth something."
Starbuck shook his head. "How the Hades did this turn into a critique of me, anyway?"
Chameleon shrugged again, a slight smile on his lips. "You started it."
Starbuck needed to get control of the conversation back, so he went on the attack. "What's it to you, anyway? And what makes you think I came over here to discuss my social life, as far as that goes?"
Chameleon shrugged. "I'm very fond of you, my boy. I always have been."
That was better. "Always? That's a very long time."
"Yes, it is."
"It reminds me of something I read once: Ever and never are neither for men."
"We can only try."
"Sometimes not even that."
The old man looked down at the cards resting between his hands. "So... it's not your social life you came over here to discuss."
"No." Somehow that was the only word that would come out. Starbuck found himself looking at the other man's face, wondering if the faded blue eyes would rise to meet his or not.
They didn't. Chameleon was still looking at the cards when he asked, "What did she tell you?"
If Starbuck hadn't already known that she'd been hiding the truth from him, he'd have felt triumph. At least, that's what he told himself to explain its absence. "Nothing," he said. "It was like you said: it was what she didn't say. How she didn't say it."
The silence across the table between them seemed to stretch out for centares. And then Chameleon looked up, shrugged again and said, almost lightly, "The truth is, I assumed you were both dead. I never looked for you. I never thought Indira would let you far enough out of her sight to survive what killed her. You weren't a baby but... I suppose I was a bad father even then. Out of town, out of touch..."
"Indira..." Starbuck swallowed. "She died?"
He hadn't asked if Chameleon was sure, but the other man picked it up. "She did. You can believe that, whatever else you don't believe. I was," he paused, biting his lower lip. "Well, I was sure you were one of the unidentifiable children in the shopping plaza. When I was home last, she'd always kept you with her, all the time...."
"You never looked."
"You don't know how many people just... vanished"
"I grew up in Umbra," Starbuck said sharply. "I know."
"I suppose you do, at that." Chameleon shrugged again, but this time it was a small, sad movement. "I thought you were dead. That's why I didn't look for you. I would have if I'd had any notion, even the smallest reason to hope."
"Really? I was old enough to be in school, and you thought I was an infant." Starbuck chopped that off.
Chameleon looked at him out of earnest eyes, and Starbuck abruptly remembered something Athena had said to him a long time ago, something about faking sincerity too well for comfort. "I'll admit to you, my boy" Starbuck wasn't sure what expression crossed his own eyes at that moment, but Chameleon faltered for a moment before continuing. "I'll admit I wasn't particularly close to you when you were a baby. I'm good with people, but babies aren't people, not exactly. But if I'd known you were alive, I'd have turned Caprica over to find you."
"No," he said simply. "I was knocked off my feet, that's for sure. I didn't know what I was doing for a while, but not even one yahren, let alone six. The story came in useful quite a few times. You know how that works."
Starbuck wanted to say something cutting, but he couldn't. He did know; he'd used being an orphan more than a couple of times in his life.
Chameleon sighed. "I missed your mother very much for a long time."
"I didn't know you well enough to miss you, to be honest with you. But I would have looked for you, because you would have been all I had of your mother, and you'd have grown up... You did grow up," he added, sitting up a bit more straightly. "You know, you have a look of Indira: her eyes, her smile... when you smile."
"What have I got to smile about?"
Chameleon shrugged his usual insouciant shrug. "You're alive. You have good friends, a good careeryou most likely wouldn't have had either of those if you'd been with me."
"So it was for my own good?"
"I'm not saying that," Chameleon protested. "In the first place, that implies I did it on purpose, which I didn't. I'd have looked for you if I'd known. And in the second, well... Now that you bring it up, it probably was better for you not to be with me. But I wouldn't have left you had I known. I'd have dragged you around the Colonies, using you and your looks and that smile... But all I was saying is that you have a lot to smile about. Like that young lieutenant over there."
"And that's why you walked away last time?"'
"Well, there you have me. Yes. We didn't know each other from the first lords. You were desperate to impress me, and I wasn't who you thought I was at all."
"You're my father."
"That much is true. And that's all that's true. You were going to throw away everything you had. Girl, career, friends, rank... for what? My quest to reunite orphans with their parents? Nonexistant. Making up to us what we'd lost? Impossible, even if I'd been telling the truth."
"You could have."
Chameleon nodded, his hands caressing the cards in front of him. "I could have. I could have told you that I was conning you from word one, which you'd have known as soon as you discovered there was no orphan reunification project. Or I could have tried to keep you fooled, which you're too smart for. Either way, you'd have learned that I had no more idea when I bumped into you on the Rising Star that you were really my son than I had that, well, no idea. What would that have accomplished? Either you'd have hated me then, or you'd have chased after me anyway and ruined your life."
"You could have stayed put. I wouldn't have had to chase you if you'd stayed put."
"I," he paused, his eyes drifting away for a moment. "I don't do that very well."
"Tell me something else I don't know," Starbuck said, and then he had to laugh, a brief almost mirthless sound. "I didn't know that, not really know... I don't know anything."
"You've done well for yourself, not knowing."
"Oh, yeah: the friends, the career... the warm, nurturing familyoh, wait. I didn't have that."
"Don't let that worry you, though. Not that you did. Did you?"
"I don't mean the first time. I believe you; you didn't think I was alive. But then you just breeze into my life and you lied to me. You conned me, didn't even think it could be true, you just threw my whole life into a spin and watched me crash and burn. And you didn't care that it would happen that way." He stopped, wishing he hadn't said that but curious about what Chameleon would say in response. He'd raised his hand to run it through his hair and bring Bojay over, but the curiosity won out and instead he rubbed it across his mouth.
This time the old man's eyes didn't waver any. He shrugged, a rueful smile on his lips. "No, I didn't. Empathy with strangers is something my way of life knocked out of me a very long time ago. And you were a stranger. You said it: I didn't even think there was a chance you were my son, even having heard your story on IFB. My son was dead; you were just another Umbran orphan. Getting off the Rising Star was the only thing on my mind; if I thought about your reactions at all, I figured you wouldn't have time to get so invested in thinking I was your father that it would bother you much to find out I wasn't. After all, I didn't intend to press that claim: Lords of Kobol know I didn't have anything prepared. I was sure your friends would insist on tests, and if they didn't, I could manuever them into doing it easily enough. I didn't think you would get attached, but the truth is, I didn't care if you did. I couldn't worry about you; I was worried about me."
Starbuck almost said, So what's new?, but he didn't. There wasn't any point. It wasn't new. It didn't need to be said.
"Then, later, when I thought I had gotten away with it, was safe, and then I actually found myself wishing it was possible that you were my son, enjoying the fantasy, enjoying you. And being glad we'd had the tests, since I could see that you were taking it much too much to heart. That we were from the same tribe surprised me, your mother and I weren't Capricans, after all"
Starbuck was startled. "Not?" That was somehow more disturbing than anything else. He'd always been a Caprican; a rebellious, disobedient son of that most prestigious of the tribes, perhaps, but a Caprican nonetheless, no family of his own but real if thin blood ties to almost everyone in the orphanage, not to mention Apollo. Even thinkingknowingthat Chameleon was his father, he'd still thought they were Capricans. Who was he kin to now? What was his tribe, where did he belong? Gemonese, like Cass? Cancerian, like Sheba (please, no)? Leonid, like Boomer?.. Piscon? And wouldn't that be a laugh?
"No. You were born on Aquaria, actually, but we're from," he paused. "We were Arian."
Arian? He didn't even know any Arians. Did he?
"That's what made me start wondering. That preliminary test, saying you were Arian... I had to entertain the impossible: maybe you were my son after all. And if you were, you were going to ruin your life, to no good purpose."
"So you lied."
"And all for my own good?" He hadn't meant that to be a question.
Chameleon smiled. "That time, yes. I'm older; maybe I'm less selfish. No, who am I trying to fool with that? Just as selfish as ever: Cassiopeia thought we could be a happy family"
"She's such a romantic," Starbuck couldn't help saying.
The old man smiled. "Yes... But it wouldn't have worked. The best I hoped for, once I learned the truth, was this: you and I still talking to each other."
Starbuck looked across the table at the old man. He shook his head. "Have you ever done anything but lie to me?"
"I haven't lied to you this afternoon, Starbuck."
"That's a change."
Chameleon looked at him evenly. "Yes. Yes, it is. But that's who I am, Starbuck. I'm a liar. It's how I live. By now, it's second nature to me, if not first. You're not like that. Look at you: you're a Colonial Warrior, a decorated hero. The commander himself takes a personal interest in you. Your life is too full to have room in it for an aging conman."
Just a bit over the top, Starbuck thought. "You're agéd, and you're trying to make me feel sorry for you."
Chameleon smiled. "Yes, of course. To both. But I'm still not lying."
Starbuck stared at him. Somehow this conversation hadn't ever gone the way he'd figured it would. And now his... this old man was actually somehow pushing his buttons even though he by gods knew that was what was happening. "You expect me to believe that?"
Chameleon turned his hand over in the air. "What I expect is that you don't think I have any right to expectations. And you're right, of course."
"I am." That sounded far too much like a question. Starbuck repeated it, firmly this time. "I am."
Starbuck found himself with too many emotions to know which one was strongest. It was disbelief, probably, but anger was running it a close second, maybe even winning. And there were others he couldn't sort out. He stared at the old man across the table as if for the first time, seeing the frail bones, thin gray hair, crepy skin, faded eyes... the spotted, wrinkled hands with the veins standing up like ropes. He'd thought the words old man often enough but they'd never hit him so hard as they were now. It shouldn't make any difference. He didn't know if it did.
He didn't know anything about how he felt, and that was the problem. He realized that he'd been staring at Chameleonat his fatherfor quite a long time without saying a word. Chameleon was just sitting, quiet under his gaze. Starbuck had never been crazy about silence, but this one was suddenly unbearable. He had no idea how to end it, though, no idea what he should say. "So," and he didn't know if he was talking to Chameleon, himself, or the universe at large and any gods that might be listening, "what happens now?"
Chameleon shrugged supplely. "I'm sure that's up to you, Starbuck. I told Cassiopeia what I wanted"
Starbuck laughed shortly. "Yeah? Another thing she didn't tell me."
The old man looked briefly disconcerted; again Starbuck wondered how real it was. In the next micron he wondered if it really mattered. He couldn't have a relationship with the man if he was always wondering if it was real. Believe it or forget it, that's how it had to be. And the funny thing was, he had no idea which one he wanted.
Chameleon was answering. "Well, I don't have the right to ask anything, expect anything. All I want" he paused. "I want to see you, Starbuck. To talk to you, have you talk to me. To be your friend again. I can't be your father, but I can be your friend."
"I don't know," Starbuck said. "I just don't know..." He looked down at the table and saw his own hands. If he'd been holding a deck of cards, they could have been those of the Unwitting Youth in one of those macabre Death and Old Age paintings they'd studied back at the academy, in Cultural History. He moved his gaze to the worn tabletop between his and his father's hands and looked for something to say. Then it came to him and he couldn't understand why it had taken so long to get through. "I want to know about my mother."
"Of course." Chameleon glanced up at him. "I've been making a recording for you, of everything"
Was he hopeful that Starbuck would say, No, in person? Maybe. But before Starbuck could decide if he wanted to, Chameleon's gaze slipped past him and he heard Bojay's footsteps approaching. He hadn't given the sign; he looked at his wristchrono as Bojay stopped behind him and said, "Starbuck? If we don't get going, we'll be late, and the captain won't be happy."
"And that's putting it mildly," Starbuck agreed. He stood up and hesitated, seeing how Bojay's eyes flickered towards Chameleon and back. His own eyes followed and he felt trapped between the two gazes: the pale brown was neutral, but the faded blue wasn't. If he didn't introduce them, he'd burned a bridge, but if he did he'd crossed it. Just now he didn't know which he wanted to do, if indeed he wanted to do either, but doing nothing was doing something. Then his academy education gave him a good notion: somewhere between the cut direct and the 'Dad, meet my lover' was the impersonal presentation of information that didn't obligate the officer in any way. "This is Lieutenant Bojay," he said, the barest minimum, and then he thought: If I don't say his name, he'll think I talked about him. He'll know it, you mean, he corrected himself, because of course he thinks it already... "Chameleon," he gestured, hoping the pause before he'd spoken hadn't been too long. He looked at Bojay and said, "We'd better get moving."
Bojay nodded without speaking, to either of them, and started threading his way through the tables. Starbuck pushed the chair back under the table and turned to follow, but then he was stopped by another thought, sufficiently startling to make him turn back. "You didn't say anything."
Chameleon looked up, puzzled. "About what?"
"Bojay. And me."
Chameleon narrowed his eyes, looking searchingly at Starbuck. "Surely you don't think I'm going to act as though I have a right to an opinion."
"Of course you have a right to an opinion. You just don't have the right to think I'll let it matter to me. But if we're going to be friendsI say, if," he added to the widening of the old man's eyes, "then either you tell me now, so I know and can take it into account when I'm deciding, or you don't ever."
Chameleon shrugged. "Then I can only say that it's your own business, after all. You're a grown man and, especially if you left Cassiopeia for him, you must know what suits you. And, I suppose I could add that I'm neither sire-class nor fundamentally religious, to be obsessed with blood or sin, though I don't suppose you care about that."
And since Starbuck didn't know whether he did or not, he just shrugged, turned, and walked through the lounge. Bojay was waiting at the door. Starbuck shook his head as he caught up to him and he said, "Let's go. We don't want to miss that shuttle."
Bojay nodded. They walked in silence until they reached the lift, and then Bojay said, smiling slightly, "Well, you didn't exactly fall on each other's necks, but you didn't slug him, so it must have gone okay."
"I guess you could say that," Starbuck punched the call button again.
Bojay gave him until the doors opened before prompting him again. "He had an explanation for you?"
Starbuck really wished he'd just be quiet. He needed time to process that conversation before he talked about it. Just for a moment he wished for that strange, silent Bojay who'd been on the Galactica for the past half yahren. He hunched a shoulder in his wingmate's general direction and said, "You could call it that, I guess." The doors slid open and he ducked inside.
Bojay followed him in and leaned against the wall opposite. "Dere 'mlaen, Buck."
Starbuck gave him a jaundiced look. He got back a quick, embarrassed smile, a ducked head, and a translation he'd almost rather not have had. "Come on, Buck."
"Dare emline, huh? I'll remember that one."
"Don't memorize it, Buck, just do it."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Oh, for" Bojay shook his head. "Dere 'mlaen. You dragged me over here"
"To watch my back."
"which you knew you didn't need."
"I did, though."
"But now you're okay on your own again?"
Starbuck started to give him a short, annoyed answer, but paused before he did. There was an expression on Bojay's face that made him realize what he was doing, what Cass had called him on more than once. "You use people," she said, "and we don't mind, except you think a smile and a thank-you is enough and then after a while you don't even give us that any more. And you never let us in..."
No, he didn't. Letting people in: that was another thing he'd stopped doing a few yahrens back. The holes they left behind them when they went away scarred over but they stayed empty and aching, and he had, he'd realized, made a decision, almost consciously, not to lay himself open to that particular form of self-inflicted injury ever again. You still got hurt, of course, life was hurt, but sometimes you could pick how... But maybe, he thought now in the mood of introspection that he'd been caught up in for the past couple of days, maybe all you really did was line yourself up for ambush hurt, the hurt of realizing you'd chased everyone away. Of making your own loneliness...
He'd put his hand on the close-door button when Bojay had accused him of dragging him along, and the lift had begun to complain softly while he was thinking. The annoying whine stepped up in pitch and volume, and Starbuck took his hand off the button for a micron; it would start up again in a centon, he knew. He looked at Bojay; the other man looked back at him, and his expression was a bit nervous as well as stubborn. Starbuck didn't like Bojay being nervous, not at all, and yet he had to admit that he liked knowing he mattered enough to crack that same silence he'd just been half wishing for. "Look, Boj," he started.
"No, you look," Bojay said and then seemed to run out of words, and out of fuel as well. In the silence before the warning began again they looked at each other, and then, "Paid ti â chau fi allan," Bojay said earnestly. "Please. Don't shut me out."
"I don't mean to," Starbuck said. "I really don't; I keep thinking I've given you the keys to everything. I've just..." He shrugged. "I guess I've got too many doors."
"Who doesn't? But don't... shut them in my face."
"I'll try," Starbuck promised. "But you knock."
Bojay grinned. "What's that thing Librans say? Blood on my knuckles."
Starbuck had to grin, too, even though the whine of the lift had started up again. He'd heard Giles say that more times than he could remember, though actually Giles said krov iz nosu, blood from my nose. Or yours, or his... Libran apparently left pronouns out as often as Cambrian put extra ones in. He was glad he'd grown up with Standard, which was, as everyone knew, just Caprican with some vocabulary differences. Lucky to be Caprican... he stopped himself short. He wasn't Caprican.
And then, quite suddenly, what Matron had called his "irrepressible imp of the ridiculous" (and she should have known, as often as she'd tried repressing it) poked its head and pointed out that maybe he'd been born Arian, but he'd had the sense to do it on Aquaria and then move to Caprica as soon as possible. He shook his head, laughing at himself.
"What?" Bojay asked.
"Nothing. I mean, I was just thinking about languages." The whine was almost too annoying to ignore. "I think we're about to be ejected."
"Me, too. You okay?"
"Later. I mean," he added quickly, "today. Later today. There's too much to say now. Maybe if we get a chance before we get off, but as soon as we do. For sure." He took his hand off the button and the door opened; he could have sworn it was laughing triumphantly. Outside was an old woman, who was glaring, and a crewman who was raising his eyebrows. Starbuck smiled. "This door really needs to be fixed, doesn't it? I'd put it in, if I were you."
"Good afternoon, siress," Bojay added politely as they stepped aside.
As they passed he heard her say, low but clear, "Jackanapes."
"You know," Starbuck said, looking over his shoulder, "I don't think I ever heard anyone actually say that before."
"Well," Bojay said, looking at his wristchrono, "the captain'll say a lot worse if we miss that shuttle."
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